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Elfin: Tech Finally Falling From The Top After All These Years

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Virginia Tech v Pittsburgh
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The Nats are finally having a first winning season, something the Redskins haven’t had since 2007. The Caps have won just three playoff series since 1998. The Wizards have won only two since 1979.

Maryland basketball has had more years out of the NCAAs than tournament victories lately. Georgetown hasn’t gotten past the second round since 2007. That was also the last year that George Washington qualified for the big dance. George Mason has one NCAA triumph in its history other than its miracle run to the Final Four in 2006. Navy hasn’t made the tournament since 1998. American and Howard have never won an NCAA game. Virginia Tech has won just two since 1980. Virginia has a lone victory since 1995.

Maryland lost 10 football games in two of the past three seasons. Navy is 5-10 since the end of the 2010 regular season. Virginia had a losing record in four of the past six years. Howard was 13-42 the past five seasons.

Amidst all of this failure by teams whom Washington area fans follow, Virginia Tech football has shone like a beacon. Coach Frank Beamer’s Hokies have enjoyed 19 consecutive winning seasons and played in a bowl after each. The last year that Virginia Tech didn’t win at least 10 games, 2003, Barack Obama wasn’t even a U.S. Senator yet.

The Hokies finished in the top 25 in 16 of those last 19 seasons. There hasn’t been a national championship, but by Washington/East Coast standards, Virginia Tech has been a true powerhouse.

All of that explains why last Saturday’s 35-17 loss by the 13th-ranked Hokies at previously winless Pitt was so stunning even though seven offensive starters — led by running back David Wilson, the 2011 ACC Player of the Year — departed after last season.

The Panthers jumped to a 21-0 lead and cruised, surrendering a mere 10 points to a talented Tech offense (the other came on a 94-yard punt return). By halftime, senior quarterback Logan Thomas had thrown three interceptions and redshirt freshman running back Michael Holmes had lost a fumble at his 10-yard line. Thomas completed just 14 of 31 passes and the Hokies ran for just 29 yards.

Longtime coordinator Bud Foster’s usually stout defense wasn’t any better, yielding 537 yards to a Pitt team that had already lost at home to FCS member Youngstown State.

In contrast, Tech had won 34 of its previous 43 games with only two of the nine defeats coming against unranked teams: ACC rival North Carolina in 2009 and, more shockingly, FCS Subdivision member James Madison in 2010.

So did the Hokies take the Panthers lightly?

“We weren’t ready,” lamented linebacker Bruce Taylor, whose team had won a national-best 13 straight road games. “That’s basically what it boils down to.”

Or perhaps, Tech, which was 0-4 against top 15 programs the past two years, isn’t the same dominant program that went 12-8 against such foes from 2002-09. These Hokies needed a last-second field goal to force overtime against visiting Georgia Tech before winning the opener with another field goal. Then came a blowout of FCS school Austin Peay, but Tech is just 89th in total offense and 79th in scoring.

Next up for Beamer’s team, which fell out of the rankings for the first time in nearly two years after the loss at Pitt, is Bowling Green, which was tied with Florida midway through the third quarter of its opener. Then comes a meeting with defending Big East champion Cincinnati at FedEx Field before seven straight ACC games, including a date at No. 10 Clemson and a visit from No. 4 Florida State.

The good news for the Hokies is that, having already vanquished Georgia Tech, they figure to win the ACC Coastal Division again if they can win at Miami on Nov. 1. That would put them in the conference championship game against the Florida State-Clemson survivor. But only a victory in that contest would truly mean that Tech is truly the same old powerhouse that its fans have counted on for so long.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin

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