There have always been bad preseason injuries in college football. It is a physical sport and to get ready to play it at a high level, teams have to get physical in practice. It’s part of the game that teams and fans have to (reluctantly) accept.
But sometimes there are terrible, devastating, injuries that change the entire complexion of a season. The injury to Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans is one of those. Evans, who set the Hokie freshman rushing record with 1,265 yards last season, was the MVP of the Orange Bowl win over Cincinnati after rushing for 153 yards. He is clearly Virginia Tech’s best offensive weapon and his expected return was a big reason the Hokies were picked in just about everybody’s preseason Top 10.
But the sophomore from Indianapolis is now out for the season after tearing his ACL during practice this week.
Now Virginia Tech, as it should, is trying to put the best spin possible on this situation. The Hokies always have a lot of good running backs and there are some talented ones waiting in the wings like redshirt sophomore Josh Oglesby, highly-recruited redshirt freshman Ryan Williams, and freshman David Wilson.
But there is a reason Evans was in the starting lineup as redshirt freshman last season. He is something special. You just don’t replace players like Darren Evans so easily.
This one injury to Evans is going to have a ripple effect in a lot of different areas of college football:
**–If you had told the voters in the coaches poll that Evans would not make it to the opening game, I would venture to say that they would not have voted the Hokies at No. 7. Georgia was a preseason No. 1 last summer but after OT Trinton Sturdivant and DT Jeff Owens were lost quickly to injuries, Georgia simply wasn’t a No. 1 team any more. The Bulldog Nation didn’t want to hear that, but it was a fact.
**–You can’t discount the psychological component to this injury for Virginia Tech. I firmly believe that the loss of Sturdivant and Owens changed Georgia’s mental makeup and approach to the games last season. Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer is a very good head coach but getting the mindset of a team back on track after such a major injury is difficult.
**–Think about what this does to the ACC. At the most recent conference preseason meetings, Commissioner John Swofford conceded that his league, while very balanced with 10 bowls teams last season, really needed to have one of its teams make a run at the national championship. The ACC, he said, needs to be in the BCS conversation in November and early December. Virginia Tech opens against No. 5 Alabama in Atlanta on Sept. 5. The ACC really needed a signature win against an SEC power to get the season started. Can Virginia Tech still beat Alabama? Of course it can. But an injury like this makes it less likely.
**–Why do I say that? It doesn’t take a football genius to know that Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, his defensive coordinator, are game planning to shut down the run and force Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor to throw, something he’s not particularly good at doing (2 touchdown passes, 7 interceptions last season.) The injury to Evans makes that a little easier for Alabama.
**–All the tickets to the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff have been sold and ESPN’s College Game Day will be here. The hype will be the same. But now the story line, instead of two top 10 teams wanting to get off to a good start towards the national championship, will be whether or not Virginia Tech can overcome the injury to Evans. It is still a good story line but it’s just not as compelling. And fair of not, and it’s not fair, Alabama will not get as much of a pop out of the game if it wins because the poll voters will take into account that Virginia Tech’s best offensive player was not there.
**–Now you have to look at the ACC Coastal race differently. Most people were putting Virginia Tech into the ACC championship game again because so many starters return. Now the gap has been closed with Georgia Tech and North Carolina. And don’t forget that Virginia Tech has to come to Georgia Tech on Oct. 17.
But that is one of the wonderful things about college football. Out of adversity, great things sometimes happen.
Nobody thought Arkansas could beat No. 2 Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl after Lou Holtz kicked a bunch of players off his team. But the Hogs pulled off one of the biggest upsets in school history, 31-6.
Nobody thought LSU had a chance against Tennessee in the 2001 SEC championship game when Tiger quarterback Rohan Davey and running back LaBrandon Toefield both left the game with injuries in the first half. But Matt Mauck, a former minor league baseball player, came off the bench at quarterback and led LSU to a 31-20 win.
Will something dramatic like that happen at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 5? That’s why we have to watch.
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