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Virginia Tech coach rankled by criticism of Big East

November 21, 1997

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Virginia Tech is one victory away from an attractive bowl game, and coach Frank Beamer isn’t about to apologize.

The No. 19 Hokies can clinch at least a tie for the Big East Conference championship by beating Pittsburgh Saturday, but some critics might argue it would be an accomplishment not worth bragging about.

This season, it would seem, the Big East has been more like the Big Easy.

Traditional power Miami (5-5) is having an off year, and even the conference’s three nationally ranked teams _ No. 18 Syracuse, No. 22 West Virginia and the Hokies _ sustained embarrassing losses.

But Beamer disagrees, saying the Big East is a conference on the rise, and its overall strength is displayed weekly when virtually every team in the league is capable of winning _ or losing.

Even Temple, the conference’s perennial weak link, defeated Boston College, which in turn beat West Virginia.

``It goes in cycles, and in our conference, everybody has knocked each other off,″ he said. ``Nobody is in the top 10, and maybe we don’t have the one dominant team that they have in other conferences.″

Beamer is right _ Syracuse beat West Virginia (40-10), but lost to Virginia Tech (31-3). The Hokies beat up on Syracuse, but lost at West Virginia (30-17). The Mountaineers probably lost their chance at the conference title when they were upset by Boston College 31-24.

``Maybe it’s a sign of balance that there isn’t one dominant team ... like Miami used to be,″ Beamer said. ``At the end of the season, the Big East will be right there.″

In the eyes of some bowl directors, that’s the problem.

The Big East champion _ Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-1 in Big East) will clinch a tie if it wins Saturday _ automatically qualifies for an alliance bowl. With no Big East team in the top 10, that means one of the major bowls could be in for a dud of a game.

But Beamer and Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris contend there is too much overall balance and skillful recruiting going on for the Big East to continually fail to break into the top 10.

``All I know is, in this business you can’t overlook anybody or you’ll get smoked,″ said Harris, an assistant coach last season at Rose Bowl champion Ohio State. ``Every game in this league has been difficult for us.″

No more so than the Panthers’ final three games of the season.

The Panthers (4-5, 2-3) rallied from a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take a lead over Syracuse last week, only to lose 32-27 on a last-minute touchdown pass. It was their second such loss in as many games; they blew a two-touchdown lead Nov. 1 at Boston College and lost 22-21.

Now, the Panthers must beat nationally ranked Virginia Tech and West Virginia in a span of seven days to enjoy their first winning season since 1991. They have no more than four victories in any season since.

``It used to be that if we were behind 19-0 in the fourth quarter, it would be 38-0,″ linebacker Roderick Humphrey said. ``The Syracuse game woke us up and made us realize, `Hey, we can play.′ ″

Quarterback Pete Gonzalez has played much better than anticipated, with 21 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. But he will be challenged by a Hokies defense that ranks first in the conference in pass defense, total defense and fewest points allowed.

Virginia Tech is the only team on Pittsburgh’s schedule that the Panthers have never beaten. The Hokies are 4-0 against Pittsburgh.

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