Conventional wisdom says there are two ways to enter a swimming pool. You can use the ladder to test the water, or you can just go for it and jump.
Virginia Tech found out there’s a third way. They are being thrown in.
The Hokies’ 2013 campaign begins Saturday in Atlanta against two-time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
“Facts are facts. I don’t think you’ll see many people, if any, picking us,” said Hokies head coach Frank Beamer.
Just some of the facts that sit between Tech and a 1-0 start: The Hokies will start freshmen at left tackle, running back and cornerback. They are 18.5-point underdogs. Alabama’s quarterback, A.J. McCarron, has a .923 winning percentage while leading the Crimson Tide, and led the nation in quarterback rating a year ago.
It would be easy then, with everything seemingly stacked against them, for the outlook to be grim in Blacksburg in the days and weeks leading up to the game. But it has not been so.
Whether the players and coaches are putting up a facade to try and convince the public — or themselves — that they have a chance, or whether they really believe it, the Hokies are saying all the right things heading into the opener.
Atop the list of the most vocal and optimistic is Jack Tyler.
“We know the magnitude of the situation. We know the skill level of the opponent we’re playing, but like I’ve said all along, they’re on scholarship just like we are,” Tyler, a senior linebacker, said. “We dominate if we do what we are supposed to. We can shut them down.”
It would be easy for the Hokies to be intimidated — Alabama has won three of the past four national championships. But that’s not the case either.
“Maybe it’s my background, coming from wrestling with (Tech) coach (Kevin) Dresser,” senior center Andrew Miller said. “One of his main sayings is ‘Never take a backseat to anybody.’ And that’s something I never do.”
And it’s not just the players who aren’t afraid to do battle with the football goliath.
“We’re just as good as anybody around,” said associate head coach Shane Beamer. “They have great coaches and they earned those national championships, but our guys certainly aren't shying away from anybody."
Frank Beamer has scheduled some daunting opponents before to start a season, but none quite this good. In fact, he said he’s never played anyone this good.
“When you look at this (Alabama) team overall, I think they're the best we've ever played,” said Beamer, who has more than 319 games under his belt.
“We have started out with teams that are really good where you got about a 50/50 chance of winning, and less than that with Alabama,” Beamer said. “I know we are a big underdog.”
So then why continue to schedule these big games to start of the year?
“In the big picture when you play the best team in the country, if you win it that’s a big win for the ACC and your program,” Beamer said. “But regardless, you become a better football team.”
And a better football team is exactly what fans of the program want. Especially after a season that ended the longest consecutive 10-win season streak in the country.
But that’s the past. And the Hokies are doing nothing but looking forward.
“This is one of the best summers we’ve all been through. We’re really working hard,” said starting left guard Caleb Farris. “We’ve worked a lot independently on our own without the coaches to learn the offense and be ready to roll.”
In addition to a more productive offseason, the Hokies have a couple other factors, some tangible, some not, which could be in their favor heading into the Georgia Dome.
One of the most notable is capitalizing on the element of surprise.
Following Tech’s new offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler, to campus is a new offense scheme. Because of that, both he and Frank Beamer are limiting the amount of information and video that is getting out.
“Looking at our offensive film from last year won’t serve (Alabama) a big purpose, other than personnel,” Frank Beamer said. “We need to try and use every advantage we’ve got.”
Another tactic, employed more by players than coaches, is to try and psych themselves up for the game.
“I don't think (Alabama is) thinking about us too much, honestly,” Farris said.
When James Gayle was asked how he felt about Alabama getting all the attention, the senior defensive end had to censor his first reaction.
“I’m tired of it,” Gayle said. “We’re a good team also. But they’re coming off a strength season last year. With the national championship, so respect should be given. I just don’t feel like we’re getting much on our end.
“It definitely motivates us,” Gayle said. “We’re not a slouch ourselves. We had a down season last year but we’re still Virginia Tech.”
Whether the Tide are truly overlooking the Hokies or not, Tech looks to use every trick they’ve got on Saturday — psychological or otherwise.
The Hokies have been tossed in the deep end.
Now they have to learn how to swim.