BLACKSBURG, Va. — Vinston Painter can feel the eyes of past generations staring down on him and his Virginia Tech football teammates. A 3-3 start stunningly has put the Hokies’ streak of eight consecutive 10-win seasons and 19 straight bowl games in jeopardy.
And, Painter said, having those trends end on his watch is not a legacy this year’s senior class wants.
“You have a tradition of guys before you that have done all these great things,” Painter, Tech’s senior right tackle, said this week. “You don’t want to be that group of guys who fail to uphold that.”
The Hokies (3-3, 1-1 ACC) have six regular-season games remaining, meaning even if they win out, they’d need a win in the ACC title game or a bowl game to reach 10 victories, a mark they’ve hit in 13 of the last 16 years.
But lose one of the final six regular season dates, and Tech would have to win both the ACC title game and a bowl game to reach the 10-win plateau.
“Obviously we know about it all,” junior quarterback Logan Thomas said Tuesday. “That’s something that we pride ourselves on, 10-win seasons and bowl games. We still have a chance to do that this year. Obviously it would be a letdown if we couldn’t, but we don’t really even have that in our mind right now. I just had a radio interview and the guy asked me how I’d feel not to go to a bowl game. I was like, ‘You don’t gotta worry about that. We’ll be in a bowl game.’ So that’s just the mindset we all have.”
And it’s a mindset he said hasn’t wavered, not after the road whipping at Pittsburgh, the heart-breaking loss to Cincinnati at FedEx Field, or Saturday’s stomping by North Carolina.
“I don’t see us in crisis at all,” Thomas said. “Everybody’s been upbeat, been ready to go. I guess we’d be in crisis if we couldn’t move the ball and if we couldn’t stop anybody. That’s not the case. We’ve been able to move the ball and we’ve been able to stop people. We just haven’t done it all in the same game yet. Once we begin to do that, we’ll be just fine.”
Saturday would be a good time to start for the Hokies. They play host to surprising Duke at Lane Stadium, where they have won 29 of their last 32 contests and where Beamer is 27-6 in ACC games.
The Blue Devils are acting like their more accomplished basketball counterparts this year and winning conference games. They’ve already notched wins over Wake Forest and Virginia, doubling their ACC victories from a year ago, when their lone league win came against Boston College.
Yet even in their bluest of football seasons, Duke has given the Hokies fits. Last year, a Blue Devils squad with a home loss to FCS Richmond on its resume took Tech to the wire before falling 14-10. Three of the last four meetings between the two teams have been decided by 11 points or fewer.
With Tech winning 11 straight in the series, however, a home loss to Duke, no matter its record, would definitely come close to driving a nail into the coffin of the Hokies’ season.
Painter said that kind of talk is premature.
“I believe in these guys, I believe in my teammates, I believe in my coaches,” Painter said. “I wouldn’t take it as far as saying it’s a down year for the Hokies yet.”
While it’s hard not to think about the pressure of the big picture, of 10-win streaks and bowl games, Tech coach Frank Beamer insisted Tuesday he wants his players to focus on nothing but Duke.