Va. Tech, Rutgers rekindle rivalry in Russell Bowl

Va. Tech, Rutgers rekindle rivalry in Russell Bowl

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) A lot has changed since the last time Rutgers and Virginia Tech met on a football field.

The Hokies dominated the Scarlet Knights during their time as Big East Conference rivals before Virginia Tech left for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004.

But as they prepare for their 15th all-time meeting in Friday's Russell Athletic Bowl, Rutgers is no longer anybody's whipping boy, while Virginia Tech is the team with something to prove following a disappointing season.

The Scarlet Knights (9-4) are in a bowl game for the seventh time in eight years and are looking to win their sixth straight bowl game after just missing out on a Bowl Championship Series berth following in loss in their regular-season finale.

Friday is an opportunity for them to not only win 10 games for the first time since 2006, but go into their final Big East season next year with momentum after announcing plans to join the Big Ten in 2014.

``I think 10-win seasons in college football are the standard for elite programs,'' first-year coach Kyle Flood said. ``I think that puts you in an elite status, and certainly at a university where it's only been done twice in the past, I think you better take those things very seriously. These opportunities have not come around as often for us as maybe for Virginia Tech, but this is an opportunity for us to do that.''

For Virginia Tech, 10-win seasons were pretty much the norm. The Hokies had eight straight before and 11 in the past 13 years this season.

To say the Hokies (6-6) have had a disappointing season is an understatement a year after appearing in the Sugar Bowl. They stumbled out of the gate losing three of their first seven, and dropped three straight conference games before winning their final two.

It's a tumble that coach Frank Beamer said isn't lost on his players, and particularly a senior group that is trying to avoid Tech's first losing season since 1992 as it makes its 20th straight bowl appearance.

``They're very aware of that,'' Beamer said. ``I'm really proud of this football team because we've lost some games in tough ways, we've had some unusual things happen, we haven't always played great or as well as we need to play. And had some disappointments, had some setbacks, had adversity.

``But the football team always stayed together. They never pointed fingers; they always stayed together, played hard for the most part and ended up winning their last two games when things just didn't look very good. So if we win this game it would make a statement.''

To do that, the Hokies will need a big effort from quarterback Logan Thomas.

The redshirt junior saw all his key passing numbers drop from a year ago as he struggled at times to mesh with a new group of receivers, following the departures of top targets Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale.

Rutgers' defense is also expected to try to limit his rushing ability with a group that features the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in senior linebacker Khaseem Greene. The Scarlet Knights ranked 14th in the nation in total defense, surrendering 321.25 yards per game.

Thomas said he isn't worried about anyone who thinks the Hokies will have trouble moving the ball in this game.

``I'm not really offended by it,'' Thomas said. ``We take pride in what we do, just like everyone else does, and we're excited to go play ball and hopefully we can show that it won't just be a defensive game.

``We've had times when we've been unstoppable where we've had series where whatever we did worked. And there have been some times we've been bad, just inconsistent.''

Whatever the Hokies do produce, the Scarlet Knights will try to counter it by leaning heavily on sophomore running back Jawan Jamison, who became just the third Rutgers player since 1976 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Flood said he is as close to 100 percent as he's been since a mid-November ankle injury, and Jamison said he and his teammates are eager to prove they aren't the team that lost its final two regular-season games.

He said their goals are clear.

``To show everybody that we didn't get down, that we're not hanging our head,'' Jamison said. ``We can still get the job done. Virginia Tech is a really good team and we just got to come out and let them know we can play with the best of them.''

Thomas said his teammates are equally aware of the magnitude of this game, and are getting their confidence from their experienced coach.

``He knows what he's doing,'' Thomas said. ``He's been here 20 straight times now and that's a testament to him. He understands what's going to happen when we step on the field on Friday. He's had all week to prepare now, 20 times. So it's nice to have his experience on our side.''


Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at

Quick Links

Chris Cooley remembers mostly positive reaction to Redskins' name from Native Americans

Chris Cooley remembers mostly positive reaction to Redskins' name from Native Americans

With the Washington Redskins' name change dominating headlines across the sports world, former players have been asked a multitude of questions to get their thoughts on the team's controversial nickname.

One of those has been, "Do you remember people having a problem with the name while you were on the team?"

The answers have, of course, been mixed. Santana Moss told NBC Sports Washington's Matt Weyrich that he first noticed a problem years into his Washington tenure getting off the team bus in Seattle, while Brian Mitchell has said he's been dealing with the negative reaction around the name since the start of his career in 1990.

On Thursday, former Washington tight end Chris Cooley joined the Kevin Sheehan show on The Team 980 and described his unique experience receiving feedback from Native Americans on the team's name.

"It's probably time to change the name, and we're in that world where you can change it, but it doesn't mean that I believe it had anything to do with anything racial. It didn't," Cooley said. "Guys I played for didn't believe that, over 75 tribes that I traveled to didn't feel that way six years ago when I went to those reservations and 30 or 40 more that I went to by myself.

"You know what, it's completely fine if you change your mind on something like that," Cooley said. "And I'll be all for it, but when I was with the Washington Redskins I don't believe anybody felt it was a racially driven name."


Cooley traveled to several reservations across the country to gain an understanding of a culture his former team's likeness was representing. Instead of having to tie his opinion to polls and other methods for gathering a group of people's opinion, he got his information straight from the source.

"The overwhelming majority was, 'Don't forget us,' 'Don't care,' 'That's fine but I'm a Cowboys fan,'" Cooley said. "It was just a conversation that was had very comfortably."

Cooley emphasized going to reservations alone in order to get honest answers from its residents. If he were there with the Redskins in a larger group, he feared he wouldn't get the same feedback as if he were alone. Ultimately, after speaking to hundreds of Native Americans, the Wyoming native got a similar response to his questions.


"We would go to casinos, we would go to rodeos, and [I'd] ask them like 'Hey how do you feel about the Redskins' name?'" he said. "People would tell us, and it was more than 9-to-1 that felt positively about it, at least on the trips that I went."

However, as Cooley acknowledged, people can and are allowed to change their minds. The response a few years ago may have been positive, but that may not be the case anymore. 

According to a report from the Associated Press, more than a dozen Native American groups sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell asking the league to force Washington to change its name. 

So, in the end, Cooley isn't going to be "an old man on the front porch" as he called it, and push against change just to keep things the way they were. 

"Times change with people and all I'm saying is I don't feel like in my time there it was ever racially driven," he said. "But I'm also not going to sit here argue for it. If people want it changed then let's change it."


Stay connected with the Redskins in the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.


Quick Links

Redskins assistant coach witnessed former Raider Barret Robbins' early mental-health issues

Redskins assistant coach witnessed former Raider Barret Robbins' early mental-health issues

Sports Uncovered is a six-part weekly podcast series that explores the stories that took the national sports world by storm. The newest episode, The Mysterious Disappearance That Changed A Super Bowl, dives into how Oakland Raiders star center Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 after 24 hours of partying. 

Barret Robbins was just a junior at Texas Christian when his manic episodes began. 

A potent mixture of steroids, alcohol and marijuana left the future NFL offensive lineman in a daze. It felt like he was sleepwalking. Driving to Austin from his school in Fort Worth, not really knowing what he was doing, seeking some level of attention, he smashed the window of a car dealership. 

Robbins had no intention of taking anything. But it looked like he was trying to burglarize the place. So, Austin police arrested him. It was so out of character, his TCU coaches, including current Redskins tight ends coach Pete Hoener, weren’t sure what to make of the episode. 

“My first inclination on something like that with him was ‘Man, he must have been really drunk,’” Hoener told NBC Sports Bay Area for the sixth episode of NBC’s Sports Uncovered podcast. “You know, been with the wrong person or something.”

Robbins went to jail and then to rehab before being allowed to play his senior year at TCU. But it was the beginning of a descent that continued long after Robbins failed to post for the Raiders’ appearance in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. 

The latest Sports Uncovered podcast by NBC Sports takes a look at Robbins' infamous Super Bowl disappearance and what has happened to him since then. Listen to the full episode below or by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts:


Who knows if the outcome would have changed? Oakland lost 48-21. But Robbins’ life has never been the same. One of the best offensive linemen in football was out of the NFL by 2004 and left alone to deal with the depression and bipolar disorder that plagued him since college. 

The incident at the car dealership led to a diagnosis of depression by the TCU medical staff. Robbins’ story is difficult to listen to. He spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area for a 2011 interview that serves as the basis for the podcast, but otherwise few know his whereabouts now, including his former Raiders teammates. 

Robbins told NBC Sports Bay Area he likely had episodes before that one in college. But nothing where he ended up in trouble. It wouldn’t stay that way. He managed a nine-year career in the NFL before things fell apart. 

That saddens Hoener, who left TCU in 1997 and has spent the past 20 years as an assistant in the NFL, including nine with Rivera on the Carolina Panthers’ coaching staff and again this season with the Redskins. 

Hoener knew Robbins when he was just a teenager. The answer when odd things happened to a player back then was he must be drinking too much. Robbins just didn’t have the same support system that would be in place today for players at almost any level of football. Mental health is treated so much differently now. It might have made a difference for Robbins. 

“I think the thing that’s come of all this is there’s much better communication now with the medical staff and psychologists,” Hoener said. “And everybody up through the college level – maybe even the high school level – up through our level. So that a lot of those things don’t slip through.”

Want more Sports Uncovered? Check out Sean Taylor, the NFL superstar we didn't get to know, also part of the Sports Uncovered podcast series.

To never miss an episode, subscribe to Sports Uncovered and get every episode automatically downloaded to your phone. Sports Uncovered is also available on the MyTeams app, as well as on every major podcasting platform: AppleGoogle PodcastiHeartStitcherSpotify, and TuneIn