Plugged In With David Droschak: Virginia-FSU
Oct. 13, 2004
There are two things on the line this weekend -- Virginia's undefeated season and my football prognosticating ability.
The undefeated and sixth-ranked Cavaliers head to No. 7 Florida State for just the sixth game in ACC history between Top 10 teams. Games don't get much bigger than this in mid-October.
And then there's my little stake in this whole thing.
I've taken considerable grief from colleagues since being one of only two media hacks to pick the Cavaliers to win the ACC football championship in the preseason poll. It wasn't done on a whim. I truly believed Virginia had five or six of the best players in the ACC at their respective positions, the Cavaliers had experience on both lines and I had to give Al Groh points for once making it through 18 holes of golf with me.
Eighty-six other voters didn't see it that way.
So, I guess it's only fair this crucial ACC game is being played on the eve of my first column for TheACC.com. I may be more nervous than Virginia, who is 5-0 and has its highest ranking since being No. 1 for three weeks in 1990.
Groh and his players have reason to be confident. Virginia leads the ACC in total offense, rushing, passing, scoring and kickoff returns. The Cavaliers are second in scoring defense and their multi-talented offensive line has allowed a league-low two sacks.
Groh has built Virginia into a title contender the unconventional way.
He played most of his true freshmen when he got there in 2001 instead of piling up redshirts. And he's gone with a quarterback this season who once played wide receiver and returned punts after being beat out by Matt Schaub.
But Marques Hagans has turned a major question mark into one of the team's positives through five games. His 9.6-yard per play average is the best in the nation. And his ability to run has left opponents gasping at air.
"That kid gives them another dimension," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "He has given everybody else fits. I expect him to give us fits, too."
Hagans was never too far from the being back in charge of the Virginia offense, according to Groh, who made a point to focus on Hagans during his first recruiting trip after leaving as head coach of the New York Jets.
What Groh saw at Fork Union Military Academy that day was an incredible athlete who used his feet more than his arm.
"His play-making ability was eye-catching," Groh said. "He really relied on that."
That's changed a bit four years later. Hagans is much more of a pocket passer than anyone ever dreamed he would be, while still maintaining his elusive running skills. In other words, he's matured as a QB and has Virginia on the verge of some heady things.
"Since he came back for training camp every day has really been a positive progress forward for him," Groh said. "Any quarterback who has come out of this system has come out of it and said, 'Hey, it has taken me X amount of time to get it.' Once they've gotten it they've pretty well been locked in."
Virginia, which once lost nine straight Homecoming Games in the 1970s and used to be the graveyard of ACC football, was the first ACC team to beat Florida State back in 1995. But that was when everybody in the league was chasing the Seminoles and their talent pool. It was a major shocker.
"That game wasn't drawing rave reviews this thing is doing," Bowden said, comparing the game almost a decade ago with this Saturday's media build up.
Most believe Saturday's contest in Tallahassee, Fla., is a coin flip.
"You are going to get the atmosphere of Miami and Florida State," Bowden said. "This shows the growth of the ACC in football since Florida State has joined it. Virginia has recruited with a purpose and is coming in here with a full house.
"Virginia looks so bonafide," Bowden added. "They are not coming in here with a lucky 5-0 record. They look as good as any team in the country."
The only scouting report Bowden could get from his son Tommy wasn't good news -- the Clemson coach telling his dad the Tigers just couldn't find a way to stop Virginia's offense in a 30-10 loss last Thursday night.
Sounds like the Florida State dynasty of its early reign in the ACC.
"They remind me of the old New York Giants," Bowden said. "You simply can't get the football away from them. That bothers me more than anything."
David Droschak was named the North Carolina sportswriter of the year in 2003 and retired from The Associated Press after 21 years to form the public relations firm Hughes-Droschak Communications. Droschak wrote more than 15,000 stories during his two-decade career with the largest news gathering organization in the world.