- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As has been noted a couple of million times before, this area has changed quite a bit over the years. I grew up here, then left for college in 1974 and didn’t return to stay until 2011. Yeah, things have changed.

In the 2 1/2 years since I’ve returned, I have managed to figure out a lot of things about the “new” D.C. I’ve picked up some tricks about Metro (and learned, harshly, not to call it the subway). I know new ways to get to Nationals Park and Verizon Center. I’ve found many new restaurants. I can get to a dozen or so dog parks.

Yep, you can take the “Richmonder” tag off me and call me a D.C. guy again.

One thing I haven’t figured out? College football. Where does it fit in these parts? Does it fit? There doesn’t seem to be much of a buzz, but maybe I just haven’t picked up on it yet.

Maryland opened its season Saturday with an easy victory over Florida International and the Terps announced a crowd of 36,321 for a stadium that seats 54,000. Sure, Maryland has been down lately — coach Randy Edsall has a 7-18 record one game into his third season — but a program with any buzz at all fills its stadium for a season opener regardless of recent history or quality of opponent. Or at least gets a little closer to filling the joint.

It would seem, given the size of the alumni bases, that Virginia and Virginia Tech would have very big followings around here and they probably do. To do proper research for this topic, I may have to seek out a few local establishments that cater to those groups. Surely there are some Wahoo-specific and Hokie-specific bars in town? Looks like I have a project on my hands.

The feeling might be different if those three programs were as strong as they’ve been in the not so distant past.

There are those seven Maryland wins over two-plus seasons. The Terps went to bowl games seven times in 10 seasons under Ralph Friedgen.

Virginia underwent a staff shakeup after last season and Cavaliers coach Mike London (who won a national championship at the Football Championship Subdivision level at Richmond) is showing up on a lot of “hot seat” lists. He’s been 4-8 in two of his three full seasons with an 8-5 campaign in the middle.

The Cavaliers managed to beat Brigham Young in a storm-delayed opener on Saturday and face Oregon this week. Virginia plays seven of its first nine at home (and one of the other two at Maryland). Another 4-8 showing probably puts London out of a job.

Virginia Tech has easily been the best of the three lately. It hasn’t lost to Virginia since 2003. The Hokies have won all four games against Maryland since 2004. Maryland hasn’t scored more 13 points in any of them, Tech hasn’t scored less than 23.

The Hokies have been to a bowl game every season since 1993.

But there are signs of slippage at Tech, which had a staff shakeup of its own after last season. The Hokies’ 7-6 record was their worst since going 2-8-1 in 1992. It ended a streak of eight seasons with at least 10 victories. Watching the 2013 opener wasn’t very encouraging. Granted, the opponent was national champion shoo-in Alabama but the Hokies did not look good in a 35-10 loss. Every time I looked up, Alabama was returning something for a touchdown. It scored on a punt return, a kickoff return and an interception return. Alabama only gained 206 yards and scored 35 points.

Tech will likely smoke Western Carolina in its home opener Saturday. But does the Hokies’ bowl streak stay intact? As they showed last year, it doesn’t take much to get to a bowl anymore. A .500 record will do it as many of the bowls are now rewards for mediocrity.

Maybe I’ll live long enough to see all three programs doing well again and see some genuine excitement about football around here that doesn’t involve the Redskins.

Until then, I’ll continue to research the best places to take the dog swimming or go bike riding on a brilliant fall afternoon. Or maybe even find a cool new bar.