Hokies might need to call audible


ne program won the conference championship and goes to a BCS bowl for the second consecutive year. The other shuffled its coaching staff in the aftermath of its second losing season in three years.

So, which program is set up to have a more effective offense? Not the one you might think. Or, at the very least, it's a subject open for debate.

We speak, of course, of

Virginia Tech

and Virginia, the state's major college football collectives.

The Hokies prepare for the least-anticipated

Orange Bowl

in the history of bowls, and oranges, following a second straight ACC championship.

Virginia, meanwhile, sits home following a 5-7 season that turned up the heat under head coach

Al Groh

and prompted a staff makeover.

Indeed, given the men now atop the offensive flow charts in the two programs, it isn't difficult to make a case that the Cavaliers suddenly are capable of fielding the better, and certainly more interesting, attack.

Groh lured former Bowling Green head coach Gregg Brandon to Charlottesville to run the offensive show next season, while Tech coach

Frank Beamer

said that Bryan Stinespring remains the Big Headset on offense.

Brandon possesses some offensive bona fides, having tinkered with the spread offense as

Urban Meyer

's partner years ago and then assembling some effective and entertaining units on his own.

Stinespring never has worked anywhere but Virginia Tech, nor for anyone other than the defensive-minded Beamer. He received a battlefield promotion to offensive coordinator after Rickey Bustle departed to become a head coach, and the Hokies' annual bowl machine rolled onward.

Tech's offenses under Stinespring have been inconsistent and downright curious at times in the past couple of years. The Hokies were last in the ACC in total offense this season, 11th in pass offense and eighth in scoring.

In 2007, Tech finished in the bottom half of the ACC in rushing, passing and total offense.

Beamer's reluctance to overhaul the offense is a product of loyalty — Stinespring is practically a surrogate son — and a kind of competitive inertia. A conference championship staff at rest remains at rest, and a BCS team in motion retains the same people who control the motion. Or something like that.

Speaking of competitive inertia, ask the U.S. auto industry how doing it the way they've always done it is working out these days. Granted, the Hokies are in better shape than Chrysler or

General Motors

, but the idea that success today covers all warts is a shortsighted and dodgy proposition in both business and football.

Put another way: Stinespring's best friend the past couple of years has been Bud Foster's defenses.

Foster annually assembles nasty, speedy groups that routinely provide the Hokies' offense a sizable margin for error. Last year's unit was sprinkled with


-caliber talent. This year's is younger and less experienced, but improved as the season progressed.

Tech's offensive struggles and inconsistencies haven't gone unnoticed within the program. Linebacker Purnell Sturdivant and Foster himself opened windows that showed cracks in the all-for-one, one-for-all image that Beamer has cultivated through the years.

Sturdivant wondered about the play-calling and said the offense was too predictable following a loss to Miami, which caused Beamer to close ranks and temporarily limit reporter access to players.

Foster essentially said, "Not on me or my guys," recently when discussing the Hokies' more businesslike approach to the upcoming Orange Bowl than in previous years.

Sturdivant might have been baited into a few discouraging words. Foster clearly was not. He volunteered that he thought last year's Orange Bowl preparation was the best in his experience and that the defense did top-shelf work in the loss to Kansas — which it did.

Virginia had no such margin for error, hence the staff purge that sent former coordinator Mike Groh overboard and resulted in Brandon's hiring.

The caveat with Brandon is two-fold: autonomy and tenure.

How much freedom does Groh give Brandon? And, if the Cavaliers are .500 or below next season, even with a productive or entertaining offense, Groh is likely out the door. Brandon's system could be little more than a one-year experiment, depending on Groh's successor.

Brandon should benefit from some options at quarterback, with Marc Verica, the return of Jameel Sewell, and perhaps even Vic Hall as a change of pace. Receivers Kevin Ogletree and Maurice Covington are quality performers, and backs Mikell Simpson and Keith Payne are potentially valuable.

In Blacksburg, meanwhile, Stinespring will have quarterback Tyrod Taylor, whose improvisational gifts are outside the playbook. Running back Darren Evans and the Hokies' receivers will be a year older and presumably more effective.

But this isn't about personnel as much as the men moving the chess pieces. Forced or not, Virginia upgraded. The Hokies have not.

Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at For more from Fairbank, visit