GC: First off, and the very obvious question, what do you make of the current configuration of the Big East? Is it a sustainable league long-term? Are you glad that Rutgers is making a move now?
OTB: Rutgers didn't really have a choice in moving to the Big Ten, both for financial reasons, and for a chance to achieve relative stability in a time of great upheaval in college sports. Of course the Big East is in a precarious state, but most conferences are these days. I do think the Big East has been continually not given the respect it deserves, and that even continues to this day. It's no great shakes for instance, but the depleted Big East is more viable than the depleted Mountain West.
GC: In 2004 the Hokies moved from the Big East to the ACC along with Miami and followed by Boston College. While the addition seemed to have the opposite effect on the ACC than originally thought, it most certainly harmed the Big East. So I guess the question here is, do you miss us? And if given the opportunity for Big East solidarity over the current configuration and Rutgers' future plans, would you take it?
OTB: Sure, having a strong Virginia Tech program over the past decade would have been a huge boon to the Big East. If most Rutgers fans had their druthers, they would have wanted the old Big East to stick together, or perhaps the alternative being discussed in the 80s with all of the regional eastern programs banding together. Unfortunately, that dream is dead though, never to return.
GC: What do you think about Greg Schiano going to the NFL. Good/bad idea? Will he have sustained success there?
OTB: Professionally, the move made sense. Even successful coach in the NFL don't have a long shelf life. Even if he's fired after a few years, he'll be able to bank away a nice nest egg for his family, and shouldn't have trouble finding coordinator work in the NFL afterwards. I'd bet against him being a big success, if only because most of his appeal in college was in recruiting and program development. He wasn't a horrible gameday coach (like, say, Dave Wannstedt), but was only average, with specific strengths and weaknesses. I think a lot of people don't understand the distinction, and all of the different qualities that go into being successful at the college level. Then again, most NFL coaches are probably not going to be successful, and he probably has done just as much to earn a NFL job as the rest of them. For example, Chuck Pagano used to be a position coach under Schiano at Miami, but instead jumped to the NFL, and steadily worked his way up. Schiano could have easily become a hot NFL defensive coordinator if he had wanted instead of a college head coach.
GC: We heard over the summer about Greg Schiano's peculiar treatment of the media/scouts in his time at Rutgers. Did you ever experience any of this? Thoughts?
OTB: It is universally understood that Greg Schiano was a control freak in all respects. I don't think there was any malice intended though. For the people involved with the program, they saw that, but they also saw all of his good qualities as well, and hence had a better picture of the whole person. He is a genuinely good man who cares about his players, and does a lot for the community. That article that was going around a few months ago was really unfair, and not at all representative. It's not necessarily how I would do things, but a lot of people piling on in criticizing Schiano don't realize how common that behavior is at the college level.
GC: What do you make of first-year head coach Kyle Flood? Do you think he's done a good job, or at least under the circumstances of Schiano's departure?
OTB: It's too early to say how things are going with Flood. The team definitely played looser this year, but there are causes for alarm with how conservative his game plans have been. He inherited a loaded roster and an easy schedule.
GC: So here we are nine years after these two programs last met, and a lot has changed. For one, Rutgers is in a bowl, but also, the Hokies are as down in the dumps as they have been since the season Rutgers last beat them. Discuss the changes in the program since the teams last met. Also, if you're willing, give us your two cents on Virginia Tech's nosedive this season.
OTB: As I recall, the last time these teams met was in 2003, which was an interesting game in that VT thought it was the same old Rutgers team, but every time they tried to sub in reserves, Rutgers kept clawing back, and VT had to throw Marcus Vick back out there. As hard as it may be to believe for VT fans who remember the late 90s, this is a genuine, capable program now. More than anything, their rep has turned into one that is a talented lot with a knack for underachieving. They just keep barely missing getting over the hump. They're waiting for that one defining player or moment to help break through to the next level.
GC: This season Rutgers was chastised for their run to 7-0 because only one of the teams (FBS) they beat ended up with a winning record. Would you agree that the early schedule led some experts (and fans) to believe that Rutgers is better than they are? Are they as bad as they looked at times down the stretch?
OTB: It certainly was an easy schedule, but Rutgers did not have control over that. West Virginia left for the Big XII with little warning, and nobody knew that Bobby Petrino would tank Arkansas's season. One thing I will say about the schedule issue though is that this is definitely a Rutgers team that plays up or down to its level of perceived competition. In games against teams that they expect to beat easily, you will see the most vanilla, conservative offense on the planet, almost as if they just want to run out the clock and wait for opponents to make a mistake. When they play with a sense of urgency, this team is definitely top 25-caliber, but it hasn't always been there. I think it will be in the bowl because even in a down year, Virginia Tech still brings its reputation of success.
GC: So let's get down to it. Rutgers really struggles running the football, ranking No. 100 nationally in the category. Is there any concern they will struggle to establish the running game against a resurgent Virginia Tech defense?
OTB: Rutgers doesn't struggle running the football so much as they play an overwhelming conservative style. You're not going to accomplish much if you just intend to run up the gut three consecutive times, and even the fans in the stands know what's coming. The running game actually can look quite good if the team sets its mind to it.
GC: On the other hand, the Scarlet Knights stop the run about as well as anyone, ranking No. 11 nationally in that category. With the Hokies sputtering run game, what do you think Tech will be able to do against them? Pull off a few big gainers, have some continual measured success for short-mid yardage or be absolutely and completely stuffed?
OTB: Rutgers traditionally has been a very speedy defense that could contain the outside toss, but struggled a bit against power games inside. That's changed this year with a switch to a more conventional scheme and personnel look, emphasizing more size in the front seven. Obviously, if VT can establish their passing game early, then they'll have a lot more room to run.
GC: Not unlike Logan Thomas, Gary Nova has struggled with the interception this season. Both are in the top-7 nationally in interceptions, and Nova is fourth with 15, including an ugly 6-interception game (how is that possible!?). What has been his biggest issue, and why is he turning it over so much more than a year ago?
OTB: Nova hasn't struggled so much with interceptions outside of one awful game. His touchdown to interception ratio is much better than it was in 2011, so I don't really understand this question at all. Nova actually has been pretty good and shown impressive growth from his freshman season. The biggest issue is playcalling. The coaching staff seems to prefer to win ugly, but when they've actually been forced to let Nova take command of the offense, he's looked good. They need to let him be assertive and take more chances.
GC: Which Virginia Tech player(s) do year fear the most?
OTB: They're similar to Rutgers in that there are a lot of defensive standouts, and it probably isn't fair to single out just one or two guys for accolades when there are so many more standout players. The VT fans I know always talk up Bruce Taylor, so let's go with him.
GC: Which Rutgers player(s) should the Hokies and Hokie fans be on the lookout for?
OTB: Scott Vallone is the most disruptive player on defense for Rutgers. He's a defensive tackle who really makes things happen at the line of scrimmage. There are a number of defensive standouts though - CB Logan Ryan is probably the team's best pro prospect, even better than Khaseem Greene. Offensively, look out for slot receiver Tim Wright. He has really sure hands, which is why it was so shocking that he had some bad drops against Louisville. When the offense has worked this year, it's been because Wright and Gary Nova had very good chemistry over the middle.
GC: Okay, it's time for a prediction. Who will win, by how much and why?
OTB: The question is whether VT cares about this game, or are already looking forward to 2012. Is the coaching staff going to be distracted by all of the turnover rumors? I think the game does mean more for Rutgers. They will take the Hokies seriously, and Rutgers has played very well this year when they respect their opponents. I think Rutgers will win a close one, 23-20.