The Sugar Bowl passed on two teams ranked in the top 10 of the final BCS standings, No. 7 Boise State and No. 8 Kansas State, to match the No. 11 Hokies (11-2) against the No. 13 Wolverines (10-2).
NCAA bowl games: Virginia Tech football a surprise pick for Sugar Bowl
College football’s bowl schedule, which was revealed Sunday night along with the BCS standings, will culminate Jan. 9 when Louisiana State and Alabama will play for BCS championship in New Orleans.
Thanks to the Hokies going to a BCS bowl, Virginia (8-4) — in yet another surprising twist to its season — moved up and was chosen to compete against Auburn (7-5) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
It widely was expected that Virginia Tech’s BCS at-large hopes evaporated following its 38-10 loss Saturday to Clemson in the ACC championship game. While the Hokies have been ranked all season, they have not defeated a team that currently resides in the Associated Press top 25 poll.
But the Hokies’ fan base travels well, and with Clemson headed to the Orange Bowl, the ACC will send two teams to BCS bowls for the first time. Sugar Bowl chief executive Paul Hoolahan said Virginia Tech’s fan base was “extremely important” to the Hokies being selected.
“Certainly they’re one of the reasons we’re coming there,” Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said.
This will be Virginia Tech’s fourth Sugar Bowl appearance and its first since 2005 when it lost to Auburn, 16-13. In 2000, the Hokies fell to Florida State, 46-29, in the BCS national championship game at the Sugar Bowl.
Virginia Tech has never played Michigan in football. In fact, the Hokies haven’t faced a Big Ten opponent since defeating Indiana, 45-20, in the 1993 Independence Bowl.
It was thought entering Sunday that the Cavaliers most likely would end up in Nashville for the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 and that Virginia Tech most likely would play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
But the Sugar Bowl’s selection of Virginia Tech as a BCS at-large bid set off a chain reaction that included Virginia becoming the next most appealing ACC option for bowl organizers in Atlanta. Chick-fil-A Bowl chief executive Gary Stokan said Virginia was chosen out of a pool of four ACC teams — Georgia Tech, Florida State and Wake Forest were the others — that went 5-3 in conference play.
Stokan said Virginia “made the decision easy for us” by defeating Florida State and Georgia Tech in head-to-head matchups during the season.
The Cavaliers will be making their fourth appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Virginia is 2-1 all-time in the game, which once was known as the Peach Bowl.
Virginia will return to the Chick-fil-A Bowl for the first time since 1998, when it lost to Georgia, 35-33. This is the first time Virginia has been bowl-eligible since 2007, and it comes in ACC coach of the year Mike London’s second season at the helm.
After going 4-8 in 2010, the Cavaliers experienced a surprisingly drastic turnaround this fall. They won four of their last five games and hosted Virginia Tech in the regular season finale with a spot in the conference title game at stake. The Hokies won, 38-0.
The Cavaliers are 1-1 all-time against Auburn and have not faced the Tigers since winning a 19-0 road decision in 1998. Auburn won the BCS national championship last season.
“When you have an opportunity to play on a national stage against a national team with such recognition and football prominence, it can only help your program,” London said. “So that’s what we’re looking to do is continue to raise the profile of our program.”
The Military Bowl’s executive director, Steve Beck, felt the trickle-down effect of Virginia Tech’s selection to the Sugar Bowl, as well. The Military Bowl had last pick of the eight ACC teams that were bowl-eligible and participating in postseason play.
As of early Sunday afternoon, Beck was confident the Military Bowl would land North Carolina and said in a telephone interview he thought his hope of nabbing Air Force was “a very big long shot.”
But after the ACC earned two BCS bids and all the conference’s other eligible teams pushed upward in the bowl selection process, Beck said the Military Bowl was able to offer Air Force a higher payout sum from its $2 million pot.
The Military Bowl then picked up Toledo, which finished second in the Mid-American Conference and ranked No. 8 in the country in points per game (42.3).
Navy was supposed to be featured in the Military Bowl this year, but the Midshipmen have slogged through a 4-7 season and are ineligible for postseason play.