Virginia Tech did not meet expectations this season. You know it. I know it. Hokies players and coaches know it.
But rather than dwell on what could have been, they are taking the chip-on-the-shoulder approach headed into the Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers on Dec. 28 in Orlando, Fla. The "somethin' to prove" mantra has taken hold, with plenty of goals to check off their list. A wins would allow Virginia Tech to:
Finish with a winning record, to avoid the team's first losing season since 1992.
Get a bowl victory for the first time since 2009.
Beat a Big East team for the first time this season.
Show everyone 2012 was just a one-year blip.
"What I want to prove to the world is that it wasn’t because we didn’t have talent or we lacked something," linebacker Jack Tyler said in an interview with ESPN.com this week. "We had letdowns and didn’t play well, but I want to show the world that this was just as good a team as other Virginia Tech teams in the past, and that going forward we’re a team to be feared."
While there were plenty of questions on offense going into the season, many believed the Hokies could be even better on defense with nine starters returning. But Tyler and cornerback Antone Exum both said the group lacked consistency in the early going as several players got comfortable with new roles on the unit.
The numbers show how Virginia Tech slumped this season, compared to last season. In 2011, Virginia Tech ranked No. 10 in the nation in total defense (304.6 ypg) and scoring defense (17.6 pg). This season, those numbers were up -- the Hokies gave up an average of 40 more yards per game and six more points per game.
The last time Virginia Tech gave up an average of 23 or more points per game was back in 2003, when it still played in the Big East.
"Even though we had a lot of people coming back from last year, we had a lot of people at new spots," Tyler said. "There’s some struggling going on at the beginning of the year, and I think we cleaned that up as the year went on, and obviously we showed in the last couple games we can be a dominant defense if we play within the scheme, and don’t make a lot of mistakes.
"Hopefully we can carry that into bowl season and into next year. That’s my biggest goal, going forward, keeping Virginia Tech up there in the polls and making sure everyone still fears us, and that we are a team to talk about for next year."
There is no doubt Virginia Tech is in a different position this year than most years. The Hokies have gone to BCS games in four of the past five seasons. This is only their second non-BCS game since 2006. You see why Tyler and his teammates are so eager to show that this season is an anomaly and not a trend for the future.
"This year didn’t go quite as planned," Exum said in a phone interview. "We took more losses than we would like to, so we're definitely out there to prove something in the bowl game, make a statement and finish the year off strong versus a quality opponent."