In 1999, Virginia Tech had produced its greatest football season ever. A program that had been gaining steam for several years–a major bowl victory in 1995 and another appearance in a marquee bowl a year later—had gone to the next level when dynamic freshman quarterback Michael Vick arrived on campus. Vick got the Hokies to the national title game in ’99 and a fourth-quarter lead in that game before ultimately coming up short. The 2000 Virginia Tech football team was on track to at least match that performance before Vick suffered an injury at the worst possible time.
Vick’s numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet—54 percent completion rate, 7.7 yards per attempt and an 8-6 TD/INT ratio. What the numbers—even his 617 rush yards—can’t quantify is how much his ability to both run and throw was unique at the time and how much difficulty it caused opposing defensive coordinators.
Lee Suggs was the most direct beneficiary of Vick-induced anxiety from opposing coaching staffs. The Hokie running back won Offensive Player of the Year honors in the old Big East football conference, rolling up over 1,200 yards at better than five a pop. Andre Kendrick was a good change-of-pace back, also getting over five yards a carry and totaling nearly 550 yards for the season.
Vick had a big-play target in Emmett Johnson, who caught 34 passes at nearly 17 yards per catch. Andre Davis averaged over 13 yards per reception and made an even bigger contribution as a kick returner, where he got All-American mention.
It all added up to an offense that was fourth in the nation for points scored. Where Virginia Tech had some vulnerability in 2000 was a defense that was losing a terrific pass-rusher in Corey Moore. The Hokies still had ball hawkers in the secondary, with Willie Pile and Ronyell Whitaker combining for 11 interceptions. But the VT defense as a whole ranked a mediocre 45th nationally for points allowed.
There was a lack of respect for the Hokies nationally. Even with Vick coming back, and even having come so close to a national title, they were only ranked #11 in the preseason polls. They opened up with a 52-23 home win over Akron, then followed it up by winning 45-28 at East Carolina. These weren’t dynamic opponents by any means, but both would finish 2000 with winning records and East Carolina went to a bowl. Pollsters nudged Virginia Tech to #8.
Events elsewhere, combined with a 49-0 blowout of lowly Rutgers a week, later vaulted the Hokies to #4. They went on the road to face a respectable Boston College team. Both the strengths and weaknesses of this Virginia Tech team were on display in a 48-34 win. They easily beat subpar Temple 35-13, then coasted past an average West Virginia squad, 48-20, on a Thursday night in Blacksburg. As the calendar moved to late October, the Hokies were ranked #2 in the nation.
That meant they controlled their own destiny, but the Big East was tougher this year than had been the case in 1999. Miami, after a few years out of the national spotlight, was also in the top five. The Hokies and Hurricanes were on a collision course to meet on the first Saturday of November in the old Orange Bowl Stadium. If they could hold serve, everything from the conference to a shot at the national title would be on the line.
First things first. Virginia Tech had two games to win. They went to Syracuse, facing a team that would go 6-5 this season and won 22-14. An even stiffer challenge came the following week at home against bowl-bound Pitt. This Panther team had Antonio Bryant, a future NFL wide receiver and an offensive shootout unfolded.
What VT had that Pitt didn’t was a running game. The Hokies rolled up a 283-24 advantage in rush yardage, with 164 yards coming from Suggs. That was the difference in a 37-34 win. But in the meantime, a worst-case scenario had gone down.
Vick was forced to leave with an ankle injury. Backup Dave Meyer performed admirably, going 7/13 for 114 yards and keeping the undefeated season alive. But the Miami game was up next week and Vick’s condition was now in serious doubt.
The sophomore quarterback tried to go against the ‘Canes, but it was no use and he had to leave early. Turning the game over to the defense might have worked a year earlier when the difference-making Moore was in the lineup, but his year the offense had to carry the load. Without Vick it wasn’t going to happen and this anticipated showdown turned into a somewhat anticlimactic 41-21 loss.
Virginia Tech fell to #8 in the polls, but responded by going to seven-win Central Florida and winning 44-21. That set up the season finale at home with their archrival, a bowl-bound Virginia team. Major bowl bids were still on the line.
Vick was back in the saddled and played well, going 16/23 for 202 yards and no mistakes. The running game continued to dominate, to the tune of 259 rush yards, with both Suggs and Kendrick having big days. The Hokies won it 42-21 and completed an solid 10-1 season.
Unfortunately, the major bowl bid that should have come, did not. The Fiesta Bowl opted for Notre Dame, who was pretty good, but at 9-2, not as good as Virginia Tech. The result was the #6 team in the polls, with the most dynamic quarterback in the nation, settled for a Gator Bowl bid.
To their credit, the Hokies didn’t sulk and instead went out and made a statement against Clemson. Vick threw for one touchdown and ran for another to stake VT to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. After the Tigers cut the lead to 14-10, Suggs added a TD to make it 21-10 at the half.
In the meantime, the Virginia Tech pass rush was getting home, to the tune of six sacks on the day. Pile and Whitaker each had an interception. Vick finished 10/18 for 205 yards. The ground game won the day to the tune of a 211-88 edge in rush yardage. Virginia Tech pulled away in the second half and won 41-20. They held their #6 ranking in the final polls.
The 2000 Virginia Tech football season was an impressive one. Ten of their twelve opponents had finished with winning records. Their only loss came without Vick, on the road, to the team that ultimately finished #2 in the final polls. Vick went on to the pros after this season, but his two seasons in Blacksburg remain the best for a program that has produced more than its share of good teams over the last thirty years.