On every Monday after a college football weekend, the phrase "What if..." seems to pop up everywhere by the water cooler.
The haunt of one turnover, one big play, or one bad call seems to stay in the losing teams' fans' minds longer than any positive play ever could. Commentators even keep track during the game of what happens after that turnover, big play, or bad call.
Virginia Tech has felt the success of 16 straight years of going to a bowl.
Those years bring fans joy, but they also bring higher expectations. Once those expectations increase, the blow of a loss seems to hurt more.
With the gap between the haves and have-nots of college football diminishing, the games sometimes come down to one or two plays that could have gone either way.
The following is a list of the top 16 What If plays that could have changed a game, a few games, or a possible season for the Hokies.
The plays are rated by how much importance a win could have produced and/or how Hokie fans have had to endure remembering these plays and just asking each other, "What if...?"
16. Macho burned by gambling—@ BC, 2008
Virginia Tech had just closed the gap to 21-17 against Boston College after a Macho Harris interception return for a touchdown.
The Eagles faced a 3rd-and-11 from their 24 late in the first half. BC quarterback Chris Crane was rushed from the pocket and threw a deep ball down the sideline.
Macho Harris, who had been gambling all night, was burned, and BC ended up with a first down after the 48-yard pass. BC later scored just before halftime.
Virginia Tech had a plus-four turnover margin and scored two defensive touchdowns, but they somehow lost to the Eagles 28-23. Some fans wonder: "What if Macho had just defended the pass?"
15. Wide right by inches—NC State, 2004
The Hokies had been feeling pressure from NC State's defense all afternoon, giving up 10 sacks and struggling to give QB Bryan Randall anytime to pass.
Brandon Pace was 3-for-4 on field goals.
Virginia Tech managed to move the ball 70 yards from their own six with under three minutes to go. With only a few seconds left, Pace's 43-yard attempt sailed right just outside of the upright as time expired.
At the time, there were even questions about whether the field goal was good or not.
The loss was the Hokies' first-ever ACC loss, and fans wondered: "What if Pace could have brought his kick in by a few inches?"
14. Second miss hurts worse than the first—@ Syracuse, 2002
Virginia Tech and Syracuse decided not to play defense on this shootout Saturday with each team giving up big play after big play.
With the score tied at 35, Virginia Tech moved the ball down inside Orange territory and positioned kicker Carter Warley for a 46-yard FG.
Warley missed it short, leading to overtime.
In the first overtime, however, Warley received another chance. After Tech intercepted Syracuse, they positioned Warley from 36 yards away.
Warley missed it, and Syracuse won in three overtimes, 50-42.
This is Tech's only overtime loss ever. The Hokies continued their downward spiral, which led to the only time in the 16-year run that the Hokies ended up with a losing conference record.
Randall and Ernest Wilford set Big East records with passing and receiving yards, and Tech fans wonder: "What if Warley could have made the 36-yarder—would we have stopped the tailspin and saved the season?"
13. Pace pulls "chip shot"—Auburn, 2005 Sugar Bowl
The Hokie offense had struggled scoring against the undefeated Auburn Tiger defense and was trailing 16-0 midway in the second half.
With a fourth-and-goal from the six, Frank Beamer decided to put some points on the board. What looked like a chip shot for Pace ended up hooking left, leaving the Hokies scoreless.
Tech managed to close the gap to 16-13, but they ran out of time in the Superdome.
With the two late touchdowns, Hokie fans wondered: "With a possible 14 points late in the game (would not have gone for two points on first touchdown), what if Pace had sent that field goal through the uprights?"
12. Was it Whitaker or was it the refs?—Pittsburgh, 2002
The Hokie Faithful knew they were in for a fight with Pittsburgh coming to town. However, fans were feeling good with the Hokies leading 21-7 in the third quarter.
Pitt faced a 3rd-and-9 from their own 26. The pass to Larry Fitzgerald sailed wide and set up a fourth down. Well, it would have if Ronyell Whitaker was not flagged for a late hit.
Some fans questioned the refs, but some questioned Whitaker himself.
The penalty seemed to turn the game around as Pitt scored on that drive, as well as two more in winning 28-21.
This started a three-game slide for the Hokies, the first such drought since the end of the '94/beginning of '95 seasons.
Hokie fans watched in disbelief and could only wonder: "What if Whitaker would have let up and not allowed the ref to throw the flag?"
11. First snap is the only snap—@ Florida State, 2008
In the previous season, Beamer finally beat Bobby Bowden in Lane Stadium. People were waiting to see if Tech could travel down to Tallahassee and do the same.
With Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, it seemed to be the X-factor in that the Seminoles seemed to have problems containing mobile quarterbacks.
However, they took care of that problem on the first play.
Taylor rolled to his right and had his ankle rolled. His backup, Sean Glennon, did an admirable job until he went down with an injury of his own.
Hokie fans were left to ponder: "What if Taylor survived that first play?"
10. Maybe forcing one in the end zone is not such a great idea—WVU, 2002
Virginia Tech was locked into a dogfight against their heated rivals, the Mountaineers of West Virginia, at home.
West Virginia had taken a safety on purpose to reduce the lead to 21-18. After kicking the ball out of bounds on the free kick, Virginia Tech moved the ball down to the WVU 11-yard line.
However, Randall rolled to his left and was looking for Ernest Wilford in the back of the end zone.
Randall did not see WVU's Brian King cut off his coverage and was intercepted with 12 seconds left.
This was Tech's third straight loss and a bitter one to swallow against rivals at home.
Tech fans wondered: "What if Randall put more air on the ball?" or "What if Randall had thrown it away and gotten the field goal to send it to overtime?"
9. Walk-on walks off disappointed—Auburn, 2005 Sugar Bowl
Before Pace's FG miss, Virginia Tech had a prime opportunity slip through their hands to score an earlier touchdown and take the lead, literally.
In the second quarter, Virginia Tech was able to drive inside the Auburn 10 trailing 6-0. Auburn held firm, and the result was a fourth-and-goal from the one.
Frank Beamer elected to go for it, and instead of going right up the middle, the Hokies tried to toss it to a wide-open walk-on fullback Jesse Allen.
The ball, however, slipped through Allen's hands.
It took the Tech offense two more quarters to put points on the board, but it was a little too late.
Since Tech seemed to hold their own throughout the game, Tech fans pondered: "What if Allen was able to snag that TD pass?"
8. Owls "hooterriffic" in Lane—Temple, 1998
Some Tech fans do not acknowledge this game existed. Sometimes living in denial is better than real life.
Virginia Tech came into this game undefeated, ranked No. 14 in the country, and still remembering last season's loss to Miami, OH in the back of their heads.
In comes Temple, the bottom feeder of the Big East. Temple was 0-6 and had not defeated a ranked team in 11 years.
Tech rolled up a 17-0 lead late in the second quarter, though Hokie fans knew the team left points on the board.
Temple, a five-touchdown underdog, managed to come back and get a 28-24 lead with 6:02 to play.
Eleven plays later, Tech had the ball at the Temple three with a third down looking at them. Backup quarterback Nick Sorensen, a Tech safety, found Ricky Hall wide open in the left-hand side of the end zone.
Hall's hands, though, had other plans as he dropped the sure touchdown. Temple stopped Virginia Tech on the next play and pulled off the monumental upset.
For a few weeks, Tech was a laughingstock, which left Tech fans to wonder: "What if Ricky Hall caught that pass in the end zone?"
7. Two-point conversion is goo...what?—Miami, 2001
After a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown, the Hokies were amazed and enjoying the second half against the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes of Miami.
Tech had trailed Miami 20-3 at half. However, after the blocked punt, they trailed by two, 26-24, with a pending two-point conversion.
Grant Noel spotted a wide-open Ernest Wilford. The Tech crowd erupted as Wilford made the catch and tied the game.
Well, the referees and real life had a different view as Wilford let the ball go through his hands and trapped the ball.
The Hokie offense got one more opportunity, but Noel threw his fourth interception, along with his four completions, and Tech lost by two.
With enough time for either team, Hokie fans see that play in their heads and wonder: "What if Wilford caught that two-point conversion?"
6. It's awfully warm in the Carrier Dome—@ Syracuse, 1998
Tech and Syracuse knew how to beat each other...how? Just play at home.
Syracuse had their turn at home, but they looked like they wanted to snap that streak. Virginia Tech's defense played their hearts out, as did Syracuse QB Donovan McNabb.
With little to no offense, Virginia Tech managed to return a two-point conversion and tack on a field goal to hold a 26-22 lead with just under five minutes remaining.
McNabb was able to convert a 4th-and-8 and got the Orange down to a first-and-goal with 51 seconds left.
The next three plays consisted of a run stop, sack, and spike of the ball with five seconds left.
McNabb proceeded to throw up on the field. However, McNabb came back, rolled to his right, looked back to his left, and threw to a wide-open Stephen Brominski.
Tech's Michael Hawkes had a chance to knock it away, but the ball went just above his fingertips.
The loss cost the Hokies a BCS berth and a few million dollars in a BCS payout.
Hokie fans, who got to see the play over...and over...and over...and to this day get to see it again, are left to ponder: "What if Hawkes had one more step on the ball?"
5. Defense kept Matt Ryan in check for 56 minutes; is that good enough?—Boston College, 2007
On a Thursday night in Lane (a recipe for disaster for opponents), the Hokies had Boston College on the ropes late in the fourth quarter.
Matt Ryan and the BC offense had done nothing and were pinned deep in their territory trailing 10-0.
Over the next two minutes, the Eagles marched down the field and topped it off with a toe-tipping TD pass with a little over two minutes to go.
With the onside kick set up, the ball was kicked directly to Josh Morgan. Morgan decided to try to corral the ball himself instead of letting it go through to the next layer.
The ball kicked off of Morgan, and the Eagles recovered it.
The rest lives on television history as Ryan threw the go-ahead TD pass with 11 seconds left.
The Hokies ended up being No. 3 in the BCS, leaving Hokies to ponder: "What if Morgan could get his hands around that onside kick?"
4. Usual Beltway politics—USC, FedEx Field, 2004
The Hokies opened up the 2004 season against the No. 1 Trojans of USC just outside the District of Columbia.
The Hokies were underdogs and came out with that underdog fight.
The Hokies held a 10-7 lead at half. Midway through the third quarter, the Hokies took possession at their own six and moved to the USC 44-yard line.
Randall threw up a beautiful pass, which WR Josh Hyman came down with at USC's 12-yard line.
Hokie fans cheered even with the flag on the field. Most assumed it was a defensive interference penalty.
However, the referee pointed the other way as they accused Hyman of pushing off. Instant replay confirmed this...if by pushing off, the refs meant there was no pushing off.
The drive stalled after the penalty as Reggie Bush took over the game, thanks to a missing Xavier Adibi, who tore his bicep during the game.
With the push-off call against USC, Virginia Tech fans could only be left to wonder: "What if the referee who threw the flag actually watched from a correct angle to see the lack of a push?"
3. But they won the game...—Pitt, 2000
The Hokies came back against Pittsburgh 37-34 to keep their undefeated record thanks to...Dave Meyer?
With Tech trailing 20-17 in the second quarter, Michael Vick, a Heisman hopeful, faced a third-and-goal from the Pitt 15.
Vick went back to pass but was crushed by the Pitt defenders, spraining his ankle.
Tech kicked a field goal on the next play and was able to come back. However, Vick's injury happened at a most inconvenient time with the next game against Miami for the Big East Championship, along with a possible invite to the BCS championship.
Vick made an appearance in the game, but he was in no shape as Miami won easily and claimed the Big East crown.
Hokie Nation wondered: "What if Vick was not hurt during the Pitt game?"
2. The fumble was planned...right?—Florida State, 2000 Sugar Bowl
The Hokies had their chance in the spotlight. Led by a speedy defense and as mobile as a quarterback can be, the 1999 Hokies faced the Florida State Seminoles for the championship in New Orleans.
The Hokies received the ball first. With all eyes looking on the Hokies, the Hokies surprised many by marching down the field on the opening drive.
They worked their way inside the red zone. Facing a fourth down, Beamer decided to gamble and go for it instead of the easy field goal.
Vick was flushed and fumbled forward into the end zone. The race was on with Florida State edging out Andre Kendrick by inches to claim the ball.
Instead of putting up an early touchdown, Tech watched as Florida State put up a 28-7 lead.
Tech managed to put up a spirited comeback to take back the lead 29-28 going into the fourth quarter.
Tech fans looked back wondering: "What if Kendrick had one more step on the Florida State defender?"
1. 4th-and-1 and they...they pitched it outside?—Florida State, 2000 Sugar Bowl
Once the Hokies made their 22-point run, the Superdome was starting to become a Hokie party.
Florida State was reeling after not facing this kind of test all season, and they faced a 4th-and-1 early in the fourth quarter.
Bowden decided to go for it, and the showdown for college football supremacy was on.
Virginia Tech's defense, the team's glue, had practiced all season for this opportunity. However, instead of doing the normal run-up-the-middle fourth down play, the Seminoles pitched it outside to Travis Minor.
Jamel Smith, hoping to stop the inside rush, left the outside open as Minor rushed for 15 yards, along with a personal foul for an additional 15 yards.
Florida State scored a touchdown on that drive, which led to an 18-point final quarter, resulting in a 46-29 loss for the Hokies in their only championship appearance to date.
Hokie fans felt every single emotion during this game, and of course, they were left asking: "What if Jamel Smith had stayed at home and the rest of the defense closed in on Minor and stopped him short?"
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