Hokies' highest preseason start likely would elevate them to title game if they go undefeated

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Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Ohio State and LSU are the club's sole members. Cincinnati nearly joined them last year.

The shared distinction: Those teams emerged from outside of the coaches' preseason top 10 to qualify for the Bowl Championship Series title game.

So don't despair Florida State faithful, Nittany Lion loyalists and Georgia groupies. Your teams' modest starting positions do not preclude a trip to Glendale, Ariz., for January's BCS clambake.

That said, as in racin', taking the green flag on or near the poll beats the back o' the pack.

Outliers Virginia Tech in 1999, Oklahoma in 2000, Ohio State in 2002 and LSU in 2003 needed perfect storms of upsets to reach the championship contest. Better to hover near the front, like No. 2 Texas and No. 5 Alabama last year, and No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Florida in 2008.

So Virginia Tech and its fans should applaud the Hokies' No. 6 ranking in the coaches' poll. It's the program's best start ever, is eminently fair and likely precludes the Hokies' exclusion from the championship game if they run the regular-season table.

The USA Today-published coaches' poll, by the way, trumps the Associated Press media rankings because the BCS determines the title combatants with a formula that's one-third coaches' poll, Harris Poll and computer average.

With the richest collection of offensive talent in its history returning from a 10-3 squad, Virginia Tech was a no-duh, top-10 choice. And the five teams ahead of the Hokies belong there.

Defending champ Alabama still has quarterback Greg McElroy and Heisman-winning tailback Mark Ingram. Ohio State and quarterback Terrelle Pryor won the Big Ten and Rose Bowl last season.

Florida is, well, Florida, even without Tim Tebow. Ditto Texas absent Colt McCoy, especially considering the Longhorns' Ambien overdose of a non-conference schedule.

Boise State returns all but one starter from a 14-0 team, setting up a delectable Labor Day night clash between the No. 5 Broncos and Hokies in Landover, Md. This marks Tech's third neutral-site opener in seven years against a top-five opponent, and suffice to say the Hokies do not want a re-run.

Tech not only lost to Southern California in 2004 and Alabama last season, but also saw those teams win national titles and celebrate Heisman winners — Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart and Ingram.

Boise State and quarterback Kellen Moore were featured on Friday's USA Today front page, above the BP oil spill and Elena Kagan confirmation, which undoubtedly made Frank Beamer's week. Like most of his comrades, the Hokies' coach prefers the shadows to the spotlight.

Long a BCS advocate, Beamer in recent years has warmed to expanding the championship format. He'd undoubtedly boil were his team to be denied a title shot despite a perfect record, but given the schedules of Alabama, Ohio State and Florida, that's unlikely this season.

The Crimson Tide and Gators meet Oct. 2 and could reunite in the Southeastern Conference title game. Outside the league, Alabama plays No. 14 Penn State, while Florida concludes the regular season at No. 20 Florida State.

Ohio State faces the fiercest schedule, with Big Ten road tests at No. 10 Iowa and No. 12 Wisconsin, plus a non-conference home game against No. 13 Miami.

Texas is the exception among the top four. The Longhorns have consecutive October dates with No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 9 Nebraska, the latter on the road, but their outside opponents are Rice, Wyoming, UCLA and Florida Atlantic, none on the road.

Such projections carry a reminder: Had Texas' Hunter Lawrence missed a final-play, 46-yard field goal in the Big 12 title game versus Nebraska, Cincinnati, unranked in preseason, would have replaced the Longhorns in the BCS final against Alabama.

So consider yourself warned.

The polls are out, practices have started, Pete Carroll is sipping Seattle lattes and no one has sued Lane Kiffin in more than a week.

Let's get this party started.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime. Sign up for text alerts by texting "BIGSPORTS" to 71593.
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