November 26, 2009
Gary Stokan knows his Thanksgiving holiday will include debilitating eye strain, fanny fatigue and tryptophan intake. But those are sacrifices he's willing to make.
Ensconced in his Atlanta-area playpen, resplendent with 65- and 40-inch flat screens plus laptop, Stokan will endeavor to witness every significant snap of the college football weekend. Such is the life of a veteran bowl executive.
Stokan leads the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A Bowl, which annually matches teams from the ACC and Southeastern Conference. Primary among his must-see games Saturday: Virginia Tech at Virginia.
The Hokies began the season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama, and a victory Saturday could return them to the Georgia Dome for Stokan's bowl, set for 7:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve.
Indeed, given recent results, Atlanta appears the best postseason destination for Virginia Tech, and Virginia Tech the most attractive ACC option for Atlanta.
"We'd have no qualms bringing them back," Stokan said of the Hokies.
Yes, the Bowl Championship Series will consider Virginia Tech, 14th in this week's standings, for an at-large selection if it beats Virginia. But at 9-3, the only way the Hokies would backdoor into the BCS is for several contenders — Oklahoma State, Boise State and Texas Christian foremost — to lose.
At 10-2, Virginia Tech would have been well-positioned to earn the ACC's first at-large bid and accompanying $4.5 million. That's why last month's home loss to since-resurgent North Carolina — the Hokies gift-wrapped the game for the Tar Heels — looms as the season's low mark.
There is precedent for a 9-3 BCS team, by the way. Two years ago the defiant Rose Bowl plucked Illinois after losing its traditional Big Ten champion, Ohio State, to the national title game. Southern California exposed the pick for the sham that it was, smacking the Illini 49-17.
But a 9-3 Virginia Tech to the BCS? Don't hold your breath.
Better to ponder Stokan's ACC choices and the Hokies' preferences.
Several weeks ago, many Virginia Tech faithful were jonesin' for a Gator Bowl against Notre Dame. The programs have never met, and despite their precipitous decline, the Irish remain a marquee opponent and television draw.
But then Notre Dame coughed up the hairball — consecutive losses to Navy, Pittsburgh and Connecticut — that probably will cost Charlie Weis his coaching gig and definitely damages its bowl stock. An upset of Stanford on Saturday might elevate the Irish back into Gator consideration, though they could be coping with a lame-duck or interim coach.
If the Gator opts to match its ACC representative against a Big East team such as the Pitt-Cincinnati loser, Virginia Tech officials confront a curious choice: Lobby for the Gator and its higher-ranked opponent, or for the Chick-fil-A and its more fan-friendly matchup versus, say, Tennessee or even Kentucky.
If I'm Hokies athletic director Jim Weaver, I'm siding with the fans. Playing a top-15 Pitt or Cincinnati would not overcome the embarrassment of playing New Year's afternoon in a half-empty stadium in Jacksonville, Fla.
Politicking, however, has its limitations. Bowls are self-indulgent, and since the Chick-fil-A chooses its ACC team before the Gator, Stokan is the linchpin.
Depending on results, he could have the pick of four teams with nine victories: Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina and Miami.
Stokan said he and the bowl's 40-member board measure teams by 25 criteria. Among the most important are national rank, conference record, top-25 wins and television appeal.
By those measures, it's a coin flip.
Virginia Tech and Clemson would share the best ACC record at 6-2, while Miami would boast of victories over then-ranked Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma. North Carolina would counter with its conquests of the Hokies and Hurricanes.
Most telling might be the polls and Nielsens. Virginia Tech is a fave of the Chick-fil-A's television partner, ESPN, and the Hokies would be the highest-ranked team available.
But if Stokan and his committee pick Clemson, and the Gator stays in-state with Miami, Virginia Tech could fall to the Champs Bowl in Orlando, where a Big Ten squad (Northwestern?) would await.
This all presumes Georgia Tech defeating Clemson in next week's ACC championship game. If the Yellow Jackets lose and are available to the Chick-fil-A at 11-2, then what?
Georgia Tech is the hometown school and might remain ahead of Virginia Tech in the polls. But the Jackets can't approach the Hokies' TV brand, and last year they flamed out at the Chick-fil-A, losing 38-3 to LSU.
If Virginia Tech wins Saturday, chances are its bowl invitation won't be extended until after the BCS pairings Dec. 6. If the Hokies lose, they're likely to land earlier in Orlando, Nashville or Charlotte.
Best guess: Virginia Tech rings in 2010 in Atlanta. Waffle fries, anyone?
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.
Hokies' bowl possibilitiesCHICK-FIL-A
WHO: ACC vs. SEC.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31.
WHO: ACC vs. Notre Dame.
WHEN: 1 p.m. Jan. 1.
WHO: ACC vs. Big Ten.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 29.
WHO: ACC vs. SEC.
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Dec. 27.
WHERE: Nashville, Tenn.
MEINEKE CAR CARE
WHO: ACC vs. Big East.
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Dec. 26.
WHERE: Charlotte, N.C.