Hours after closing the regular season with a 35-21 win against arch rival Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Virginia Cavaliers agreed yesterday to return to the Continental Tire Bowl, where they will face Pittsburgh, the Big East's third-place team. The game will be played on Dec. 27 at Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, televised by ESPN2. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.
Virginia Tech yesterday accepted a bid to play in the Dec. 26 Insight Bowl in Phoenix against a team from the Pacific-10 Conference. Kickoff will be 8 p.m. and the game will be carried by ESPN. The most likely opponent seems to be California (7-6). The Golden Bears earned their first postseason appearance in seven years and listed on their Web site the Insight Bowl and Dec. 24 Las Vegas Bowl as likely destinations.
The Cavaliers (7-5), who defeated West Virginia in last year's Continental Tire Bowl, 48-22, had been in line for a second straight invitation since other bowls snapped up Maryland, Clemson and North Carolina State on Monday and Tuesday, but they had to wait until bowl officials determined which Big East team would fill the other half of the matchup.
The other shoe dropped Saturday night when the Panthers (8-4) lost to Miami, 28-14, giving the Hurricanes the Big East's spot in the Bowl Championship Series. Virginia and Pittsburgh haven't played since 1955.
"A lot of these matchups aren't very compelling and don't seem to mean much," Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "I think this is another one where it's a good game, a good matchup. It's going to mean something to the teams involved. It's got some marquee players involved."
Virginia brought 20,000 fans to last year's game and hopes to increase that figure by 50 percent this time around.
"Every aspect of support for the team this year, whether it's student body support, alumni support, fans in general, has been intensified," Groh said. "That was demonstrated in the first game of the season and quite apparent [Saturday]. In keeping with that, and given the great support and the great time everybody had in Charlotte last year . . . I think 30,000 is a very realistic goal."
Virginia Tech (8-4) had thought a BCS bid was possible after winning six straight games to open the season, but finished with losses in four of its last six games and the last two.
Hokies Coach Frank Beamer is concerned about the team's third straight late-season collapse. This one included the defense unable to hold late leads in losses to Pittsburgh on the road and to Boston College at home and in a victory over Temple, which missed an extra point in overtime.
"It kind of feels like everything's going downhill right now," said cornerback Eric Green.