In April, EA Sports in San Mateo, Calif., received a letter from
Mike Bianchin, a senior offensive tackle at Virginia Tech.
Bianchin had written to the video game manufacturer to lobby for
his team's inclusion in the next edition of one of its
hot-selling products, Bill Walsh College Football. "My teammates
and I set a goal for the 1993-94 season to finish in the Top 25
and be selected for your video game," he wrote. "Upon the
purchase of the '95 version, I and all one hundred twenty-one of
my teammates were disappointed to find ourselves not included."
The letter bore 68 signatures.
The Hokies, who finished last season with a No. 24 ranking in
the CNN/USA Today poll but didn't make the AP's final list, have
a shot at making the final cut this season, in both polls and in
"Bill Walsh"--even if they can't climb past conference
powerhouses Miami (page 92) and Boston College (page 105). After
going 8-3 in each of the past two years and appearing in a pair
of bowls, they will first need to avoid the sort of defensive
collapse they suffered at the end of 1994: In its last three
games, Tech surrendered 1,388 yards and 121 points. The '95
Hokie defenders need only look in the mirror for inspiration:
Ten of the starting 11 are returning.
Then coach Frank Beamer must find a capable replacement for
Maurice DeShazo, the school's alltime leader in touchdown
passes. His choices are junior Jim Druckenmiller, a dropback
quarterback, and Al Clark, a scrambling redshirt freshman. Clark
sat out last year and molded his game after DeShazo's. "Both are
talented," Beamer says. "I have confidence either man can do the
West Virginia had a down-and-up season in '94, losing four of
its first five before winning six of its last seven to earn a
trip to the Carquest Bowl. This year the early returns promise
to be better; the Mountaineers should be favored in their first
It's easy to pick the most exciting player in Morgantown: Aaron
Beasley, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior cornerback, won the team's
1994 Mr. Excitement Award. Beasley pulled in a Division
I-leading 10 interceptions last season, including at least one
in six straight games. "Aaron Beasley can deliver the big play,"
says coach Don Nehlen, who hopes for the same on offense from
6'3", 200-pound junior quarterback Chad Johnston, who threw for
1,863 yards in '94, and from tailback Robert Walker, who returns
to full strength after being hobbled by an injured ankle last
season. As a sophomore in 1993, Walker set the Mountaineer
single-season rushing record: 1,250 yards on 214 carries.
After starting 6-1 last season, Syracuse dropped three of its
next four games and for the second straight year spent New
Year's at home. The Orangemen's uneven season can be traced to
their uneven offense; they led the Big East in rushing but were
last in passing. "We want to have the balance we had in 1987,
1988 and 1992," offensive coordinator George DeLeone says. The
attack will probably be in the hands of sophomore Keith Downing,
who despite serving as the kneel-down quarterback last season
(four games, two passes attempted, zero completions) has the
most experience at the position. Downing will have at his
disposal Marvin Harrison, a senior wideout who has proved
himself as both a possession receiver and a deep threat.
While 5'8", 196-pound junior Malcolm Thomas won't remind anyone
of Syracuse legends Jim Brown or Ernie Davis, his 642 rushing
yards as a backup last season ranked seventh in the conference.
The team's biggest X factor may be the defensive line, where two
of the projected starters are converted linebackers. Ex-Miami
line coach Ed Orgeron should instill some Hurricane swagger in
the green Orange line. "The manner in which Ed approaches the
game is going to allow us to be more aggressive," head coach
Paul Pasqualoni says.
Pittsburgh is led by the '94 Big East Offensive Player of the
Year, Billy West, who began last season as a backup. A 5'10",
195-pound junior, West registered the fifth-highest rushing
total in Panther history; his 1,358 yards have been surpassed by
only Tony Dorsett (three times) and Craig (Ironhead) Heyward.
But the departure of three starters on the offensive line,
including All-America tackle Reuben Brown, will make last year's
act a hard one for West to follow. Bolstering the offense is
senior receiver Dietrich Jells, who needs only 22 catches and 51
yards receiving to become Pitt's career leader in both categories.
Defensively, the Panthers will be better, but by any standard
they still won't be good. Coach Johnny Majors has tried to raise
the team's sights. "Our goal last year was to have an
opportunity to win in the fourth quarter," he says. "Now we want
to win some of those games."
Rutgers has had a history of losing top New Jersey talent to
nearby programs like Penn State and Syracuse. Fortunately for
coach Doug Graber, two of his biggest stars didn't stray from
N.J.: senior quarterback Ray Lucas from Harrison and junior
running back Terrell (Lightning) Willis from Orange. In each of
the last three years Lucas has completed at least 57% of his
passes, and the Scarlet Knights have gained at least 4,000 yards
in total offense. The 6-foot, 200-pound Willis rushed for 1,080
yards in '94 despite not starting until the ninth game, when his
running mate, Bruce (Thunder) Presley, was sidelined by a groin
injury. Both Thunder and Lightning will be back this fall. But
Rutgers can only hope that opposing teams don't fill the sky
with footballs, as they did in '94. The Knights ranked No. 106
(that's out of 107) in the nation in pass defense, allowing
opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.4% of their throws.
Temple has been fodder for the rest of the Big East teams for
the league's entire four-year history. This year the Owls face a
rugged start--their first three games are at Kansas State, West
Virginia and Penn State--and things won't get much easier after
that: Their schedule includes seven '94 bowl teams.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Thomas (17) gives the Orangemen juice. [Malcolm Thomas in game]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO With Johnston directing the offense, the Mountaineers are hoping to get off to a faster start this season. [Chad Johnston in game]
2. Boston College
3. Virginia Tech
4. West Virginia