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College Football

Looking for some beauty in Va. Tech's ugly win

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The game stunk.

The teams combined for 21 punts Friday and set a new Russell Athletic/Champs Sports/Tangerine/Micron PC/Carquest/Blockbuster Bowl record.

The teams combined to throw 80 passes. Fifty did not reach their intended targets. Three passes were completed to the wrong team. At least four more would-be interceptions were dropped by defenders.

As overtime began, bowl officials stripped the duty of selecting the MVP from media members covering the game out of fear that said media members would attempt to elect one or both punters.

One team rushed for three yards, committed 14 penalties for 95 yards and opened the festivities by fumbling into its own end zone and allowing a recovery for a touchdown. The other team lost.

And then there was this guy, who probably summed up how almost everyone watching felt.

Virginia Tech's 13-10 overtime win against Rutgers will be Exhibit A the next time someone complains that there are too many bowl games featuring too many mediocre teams. Afterward, both coaches praised the defenses for making scoring so difficult. The defenses were good. They weren't that good. The offenses were awful. How awful? After the game, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood was asked if he intended to strip quarterback Gary Nova of his starting job. The Scarlet Knights won't play another game until September. Meanwhile, a reporter asked Hokies coach Frank Beamer -- in much kinder terms -- which offensive assistants he planned to fire in the offseason. "We're going to enjoy this win," Beamer replied.

They should. Meanwhile, all those people who groused on Twitter and to their televisions about the torture of watching the game should remember something important. In 11 days, there will be no more college football games for almost eight long months. You will pine for the days when you could watch Virginia Tech and Rutgers trade interceptions in a half-empty stadium. With apologies to whoever wrote the otherwise forgettable 1994 movie Threesome, college football is like pizza. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

Guess what all those complaining viewers had in common? They were watching. They watched because the Russell Athletic Bowl was college football and because it was on. Without the benefit of the overnight ratings, I'm willing to bet about two million people watched a horrible game between two average teams that started at 5:30 p.m. ET on a weekday because it was college football and because it was on. Why would I guess that number? Because 1.9 million watched the Beef O' Brady's Bowl live and, according to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, another 610,000 watched a replay of Central Florida's win against Ball State that began Saturday at 3:30 a.m. ET.

This is why there are so many bowl games. ESPN needs the inventory, because we'll watch it and ESPN will make money. For years, the people who run college football feared that starting a playoff would render college football's regular season as irrelevant as college basketball's regular season. What they failed to take into account was the fact that we'll watch just about any football game whether it's relevant or not.

Besides, anyone who stopped complaining for a moment might have noticed some beauty amidst the schematic ugliness.

They might have seen Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene playing his heart out in his final game for a program he helped raise to a more respectable level. Greene finished with 11 tackles. He also scored the Scarlet Knights' lone touchdown on a fumble recovery 17 seconds into the game. Virginia Tech center Caleb Farris thought he'd seen a Rutgers defender in the neutral zone, so he snapped the ball to draw the flag. Officials didn't see anyone offsides, and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas didn't see the ball, which sailed past him and into the end zone.

They might have seen Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum -- after the Hokies had dropped three sure interceptions -- finally pick off Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova in the fourth quarter to set up a Cody Journell field goal that finally got Virginia Tech on the scoreboard. Bowl and school officials chose wisely in selecting Exum as the game's MVP. Not because of the interception, but because after being given a $470 Best Buy gift card courtesy of the bowl on Christmas Eve, Exum put back the DVDs and headphones he had in his cart and allowed three boys from the Bahamas that he'd seen earlier in the night to use the gift card to buy their own Christmas gifts. "That was one of the highlights of my trip," Exum said. "To be able to see the smiles on those kids' faces, it definitely means a lot."

They might have seen the smiles on the faces of the Virginia Tech players as they stormed the field and celebrated as if they'd just won the national title. The Hokies haven't suffered the ignominy of a losing season since 1992, and despite falling well short of preseason expectations, this group did not want to break that streak. "We didn't want to be that team," Exum said. "We haven't had a losing record here in I don't know how long. We win around here." Said Beamer: "Nothing came easy for us. A lot of times you just have to hang in there. But, you know, not everything in life is real smooth."

They might have noticed the ribbon decals on Virginia Tech's helmets or the flag on Virginia Tech's sideline that all the players signed. The Hokies wanted to pay tribute in their own small way to the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting and their families. The Virginia Tech community, which endured a senseless mass shooting in 2007, can empathize. After the game, Beamer said the Hokies would send the flag to Newtown.

Yes, each team gained only 196 yards. No, there probably won't be a less interesting overtime game for a long time. Neither punter won the MVP award, even if one of them probably deserved it.

But it was college football, and with it came the requisite moments of beauty. All things considered, there were much worse ways to spend a Friday.

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