Hokies-Hurricanes showdown harkens to old Big East days
It’s the stretch of the schedule No. 13 Virginia Tech wanted to reach with a chance to win its division and the Atlantic Coast Conference crown.
Step one in the process, check.
The 13th-ranked Hokies play longtime rival No. 9 Miami on Saturday, and the stakes are high.
The Hurricanes (7-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) lead the Coastal Division race and are in search of their first division title since both Miami and Virginia Tech joined the conference in 2004. Virginia Tech (7-1, 3-1) would gain the upper hand in a tiebreaker with a victory, a scenario that dates back to the teams’ days in the Big East.
“Obviously it doesn’t get any bigger than this,” Hokies venerable defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Tuesday.
And Foster should know, having been on the Virginia Tech sideline for many Hokies-’Canes showdowns.
Virginia Tech’s 13-7 victory in 1995 was their first in the series, and Foster said it “turned our season around.” The Hokies were 0-2 going into the game, and coming off a 16-0 home loss to Cincinnati, but won out and beat Texas 28-10 in the Sugar Bowl.
“I think, obviously, that was one of the signature wins in this series without a doubt,” Foster said.
In 2003, Miami was ranked No. 2 and the Hokies beat them 31-7 at Lane Stadium. The victory remains the lone victory for Virginia Tech against a top 5 team in its history; they have come up short in 31 other attempts. A year later, Tech won 16-10 at Miami on its way to winning its first of four ACC championships.
“They’ve got a tremendous history, some dynamic athletes have played through there and we’ve played against about all of them,” Foster said. “It’s helped our program grow, playing those folks.”
Second-year Miami coach Mark Richt has his team playing its best football in years with 12 wins in a row dating to last season, but he doesn’t need a history lesson to appreciate an obstacle. The Hokies beat visiting Miami 37-16 last season.
“I think they’ve been underrated from the preseason,” said Richt, who has fashioned a 16-4 record at Miami. “I think they are one of the better teams in America and it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Virginia Tech’s second-year coach, Justin Fuente, has drummed it into his players’ minds that each week is its own entity. The players continually talk about going 1-0 each week, but there’s added incentive in this one.
Tight end Chris Cunningham, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, has some personal motivation.
During a Miami recruiting visit to his high school, Cunningham said the recruiter not only told Cunningham he was too small, but that he would never play in the ACC.
“I have a real good memory of certain things, mainly recruiting. I remember he said I was undersized because I was shorter than him. It sort of left like a little chip on my shoulder,” Cunningham said. “I’m glad they didn’t offer me because of that. They just overlooked me so I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad that we get to play them this Saturday.”
So is quarterback Josh Jackson, albeit with a healthy amount of respect for the Hurricanes.
“Their linebackers ... they were all freshmen last year and they’ve put some hits on some of our guys,” Jackson said. “So they’re back. I think they’ve got a pretty good D-line ... They’re a good defense and it’s going to be a good game.”
More college football coverage: http://collegefootball.ap.org and www.Twitter.com/AP_Top25
Follow Hank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr