Virginia Tech football pays tribute to Yankees with Pinstripe Bowl helmet

New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium

The Hokies’ maroon and orange helmets will get a New York Yankees-inspired makeover as they do battle in The Bronx.

The Virginia Tech Hokies have been designated the home team for Wednesday afternoon’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium (2:15 p.m. ET, ESPN). Less than 24 hours before kickoff, they showcased their willingness to look the part.

When the Hokies take the field on Wednesday against Maryland, their maroon and orange helmets, often adorned with an interlocking “VT”, with be joined by the united “NY” that often appears on the Yankees’ pinstriped uniforms and navy caps over the summer.

The Hokies’ descent upon Yankee Stadium for its first appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl has invoked memories of the bond they built with the Bronx Bombers following the tragic shooting on the Blacksburg campus in April 2007. New York would make a sizable donation to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. During the ensuing spring training season in 2008, the Yankees visited Blacksburg for a seven-inning exhibition game at the Hokies’ baseball stadium of English Field.

“That (game) symbolized that 11 months later, we’re still healing but we’re moving forward and there’s people that have our back,” Anthony Sosnoskie, the Hokies catcher that afternoon, told Mark Berman of The Roanoke Times in a retrospective. “We all as a collective unit really appreciated what they did for us that day.”

As the designated home team for Wednesday’s game, Virginia Tech (6-6) will be stationed in the Yankees’ locker room. Each team’s fanbase also shares the love of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”: the song often signaled the insertion of legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera into close games while it has also been used when the Hokies take the field at Lane Stadium since 2000.

The Hokies are looking to end their season on the right note after what’s been a tough season following an upset triumph over preseason No. 10 North Carolina on Sept. 3. It was a year that saw them bid farewell to head coach Justin Fuente after six years at the helm. They’re nonetheless back in a bowl game after last season’s opt-out of postseason proceedings, which ended the fourth-longest streak of bowl game appearances in college football history at 27 seasons. They’ll face off against their former Big Ten brother Maryland (6-6), which is likewise seeking a winning campaign, which would be their first since their inaugural Big Ten outing in 2014.

Wednesday marks the seventh Pinstripe Bowl showcasing an ACC-Big Ten matchup, with last year’s game canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous winners of the David C. Koch MVP Award (named after the late CEO of game sponsor New Era) include Zack Martin (Notre Dame, 2013) and Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin, 2018), each of whom has built prolific NFL careers with Dallas and Indianapolis respectively.

Yankee Stadium is one of four active baseball stadiums to host a college bowl game: while both the Holiday Bowl (at San Diego’s Petco Park) and the inaugural Fenway Bowl (Boston’s Fenway Park) were each canceled in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, Minnesota topped West Virginia 18-6 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field in Arizona on Tuesday night.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Offensive mid-major prospects (beyond Zach Wilson)

New York Jets

The New York Jets could use all the help they can get at the NFL Draft and should thus leave no stone unturned.

When you’re coming off a two-win season in the latest addition to a playoff drought that’s getting old enough to see a PG-13 movie on it’s own, you probably can use all the help you can get.

The New York Jets, fresh off a brutal season even by their own star-crossed standards, should thus leave no proverbial stone unturned as the NFL Draft commences on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Sure, talent from the “Power Five” conferences (and Notre Dame) rules the draft boards across the league, but prospects from the unsung mid-major conferences and schools deserve their fair share, especially with their seasons shortened or outright cancelled.

Jets fans have certainly had their share of this phenomenon, as many believe that Zach Wilson from independent BYU will hear his name called after Trevor Lawrence. But a plethora of mid-major talent resides beyond Provo and the Jets aren’t in a position to turn down assistance from any source.

ESM has six names to keep an eye on as the walk to the commissioner’s podium nears…

T Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa

The Jets apparently have the new quarterback’s blind side taken care of in the form of Mekhi Becton. But the right side is a bit less certain with George Fant and Chuma Edoga the current names on the depth chart. Brown didn’t partake in UNI’s shortened season (which ended earlier this month) but put the lost time to good use: he’s been working out and training under the guidance of former San Francisco mainstay Joe Staley.

Brown’s draft stock, perhaps unfairly, dropped after he opted out of the 2021 proceedings, which could allow the Jets to scoop him up on the latter days. They’re currently on pace to roll out the same starting five blockers they had in last season’s opener. Adding Brown could at least apply some heat on the right side come training camp.

WR D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan 

Eskridge has a bit of history with the Jets or at least a member of their new coaching staff. While a shared WMU experience with Corey Davis surely can’t hurt, All-MAC first-teamer’s term in Kalamazoo coincided with assistant offensive line coach Jake Moreland’s time as offensive coordinator with the Broncos.

As a former defensive back and track star who became renowned for his speed, Eskridge could define the balance that general manager Joe Douglas is looking for. He even became an accomplished special teams contributor, serving as the Broncos’ primary kick returner during their six-game endeavor last fall. The Jets have ranked 22nd and 28th in return average over the last two seasons after losing Pro Bowler Andre Roberts. It seems like a trivial matter, but starting with good field position could make the job of the new franchise quarterback much easier.

QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State

The consensus No. 2 pick appears to be Wilson, but Lance deserves his due diligence from Thursday’s early choosers. As the latest NFL hopeful emerging from the gridiron dynasty in Fargo, Lance won the 2019 Walter Payton Award the FCS equivalent of the Heisman whose previous winners include Steve McNair, Brian Westbrook, Tony Romo, and Cooper Kupp. Lance was responsible for 3,886 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2019 and threw no interceptions in 287 attempts.

Recency bias may work against Lance, as he struggled in a de facto exhibition against Central Arkansas last fall (he sat out of NDSU’s ongoing spring season). Teams have also become increasingly wary of one-season wonders (i.e. Mitchell Trubisky) as Lance started only one year with the Bison. But his rushing talents could tantalize the Jets, who have never worked with a mobile quarterback for an extended period of time (Geno Smith being a rare exception).

C Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater

Division III draft picks are few and far between, though Jets fans may remember Joe Fields (Widener) and undrafted Bruce Harper (Kutztown) fondly. Meinerz, a D3 All-American, could be next and could as an instant contributor if the Jets were to inquire for his services. The outright cancellation of the Warhawks’ season made it difficult for Meinerz to make an impact, but took advantage of an invite to Mobile’s Senior Bowl, where he showcased strong hands and athleticism.

Finding the right center will be vital to the Jets’ new operations under the incoming quarterback. Sam Darnold went through three different primary centers during his three-year term. The last, Connor McGovern, is set to return but the Jets could probably still look to upgrade the interior through this diamond in the rough.

TE: Quintin Morris, Bowling Green

If the Jets are looking to put some heat on Chris Herndon beyond Tyler Kroft, they should look for a tight end who can contribute to the box score.

Morris, a three-year starter who also worked as was a bright spot for an otherwise dismal BGSU program, earning first-team All-MAC honors in the Falcons’ shortened season. In the last two full seasons, Morris earned 11 touchdown passes, including seven during a turbulent sophomore season in 2018 (which saw an in-season coaching change). Morris’ propensity for scoring could help him develop a niche as a goal-line option, which the Jets could sorely use after ranking dead last in the league by scoring touchdowns on 42 percent of their red zone possessions.

RB: Jaret Patterson, Buffalo

Whether it’s through standard MACtion or downright historic efforts, even casual college football fans are aware of Patterson’s efforts in Western New York. A 409-yard, eight-touchdown tally in November against Kent State officially put him on the map, part of a stellar, shortened season (1,072 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns in six games).

Thanks to the signing of Tevin Coleman and a group of young projects, the Jets can probably wait until the latter stages of the draft to address their running back situation. Patterson could be a solid find through his strong build (195 lbs.) that makes up for his height (5’6). As a bit of a hesitator with strong speed, Patterson could become what Le’Veon Bell was supposed to be if he were to join the Jets.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: HC candidate Matt Campbell likely staying in school

New York Jets

The New York Jets were reportedly interested in talking with Campbell, but he’s set to stay with Iowa State.

Matt Campbell is apparently sticking with Ames over East Rutherford and the other NFL markets.

The Iowa State head football coach strongly hinted that he’s staying with the Cyclones despite reported interest from several NFL camps, including the New York Jets’. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports originally reported that the Jets were expected to speak with Campbell, but Bruce Feldman of The Athletic has shot the notion down. Campbell’s tweet appears to have confirmed such a departure.

“So grateful for the commitment of so many to continue to want to build our program together,” Campbell said in his tweet. “Our foundation has been built on Loyalty and Faithfulness and it will continue to be our guiding light. Humbled and Grateful to continue to lead to be different.”

Campbell’s celebration of unity stems from his ISU program welcoming back all but two starters on offense and defense from what’s likely the most prolific season in team history. The Cyclones tied a program-record with nine wins and made their first appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game. Though they fell to Oklahoma 27-21, ISU was ranked 10th in the final College Football Playoff poll and earned a postseason victory at the Fiesta Bowl, topping Pac-12 champion Oregon 34-17.

The Cyclones have qualified for a bowl game in each of the last four seasons under Campbell’s watch, setting yet another program-best. Their future fortunes received a strong turn in the right direction when All-American tight end and All-Big 12 safety Greg Eisworth each confirmed that they would likewise return to Ames, eschewing the 2021 NFL Draft.

Despite the apparent loss of Campbell, the Jets’ coaching search continued throughout the weekend. The team confirmed they held interviews with several candidates including playoff-contending coordinators like Brian Daboll, Brandon Staley, Matt Eberflus, and Arthur Smith.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags