Virginia Tech Has a Chance to Assert Itself With Games Against Nebraska and Miami

Virginia Tech football head coach Frank Beamer talks about his team's upcoming matchup with #19 Nebraska. Video by Comcast Sports
By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 19, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 18 -- On marker boards inside Virginia Tech's team room, the coaching staff keeps a list of the Hokies' weekly goals. Some are mundane: "control the ball." Others are loftier: "eight tackles for loss."

Such a compartmentalized approach has been apart of the Hokies' ethos under Coach Frank Beamer. But despite the team's day-to-day focus, Virginia Tech has milepost games over the next two weeks that will alter the tenor of its season.

On Saturday, the No. 13 Hokies (1-1) host No. 19 Nebraska (2-0). Next Saturday, they host No. 20 Miami (2-0, 2-0 ACC), which will be coming off a resounding 33-17 win over No. 14 Georgia Tech on Thursday night.

"It would be great for our confidence to win these two games," defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said. "It would be a benchmark in a lot of ways for our season."

In their season-opening 34-24 loss to Alabama on Sept. 5, the Hokies missed a chance to establish themselves in the national landscape. But against the Cornhuskers and the Hurricanes, Virginia Tech has the opportunity to assert itself as the team to beat in the ACC.

In Nebraska, the Hokies meet an opponent with Big 12 credibility; a win over the Cornhuskers would add a quality nonconference win to Virginia Tech's résumé. The Hokies defeated Nebraska, 35-30, last year in Lincoln, Neb. Beamer said beating a program like Nebraska "means something."

Against Miami, the Hokies have the chance to make a statement about themselves in one of this season's most important ACC Coastal Division games. With a 38-34 win over Florida State on Sept. 7 and a victory over Georgia Tech on Thursday, Miami has revived its swagger and become the target of every other team in the ACC.

"We got two tough games," guard Sergio Render said of facing Nebraska and Miami. "Both of these games are statement games."

Virginia Tech's nonconference schedule was difficult by ACC standards even before the program added the season opener against Alabama. Along with the Crimson Tide and the Cornhuskers, the Hokies will travel to East Carolina for a nationally televised Thursday night game on Nov. 5. The Pirates defeated Virginia Tech, 27-22, last season.

Such high-risk, high-reward scheduling will continue in the future. Virginia Tech has home-and-home series against Pittsburgh in 2012 and '13, Ohio State in 2014 and '15, and Wisconsin in 2016 and '17.

"We want to win a national championship," Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver said. "That's our ultimate goal. And in order to do that, you've got to schedule top-notch teams."

But games such as Saturday's, featuring a blue-blooded nonconference visitor, are a rarity. Since 1991, only eight ranked nonconference opponents have played in Blacksburg. The Hokies went 4-3-1 in those games.

In recent years, Virginia Tech has been similarly positioned early in the season -- with a loss to a ranked team -- but has rebounded to make Bowl Championship Series appearances.

In 2004, No. 1 Southern California defeated unranked Virginia Tech, 24-13, in the season opener at FedEx Field. The Hokies had a few weeks to find their footing before knocking off three ranked opponents: No. 6 West Virginia, No. 16 Virginia and No. 9 Miami. They finished the season in the Sugar Bowl, suffering a 16-13 loss to No. 3 Auburn.

In 2007, No. 9 Virginia Tech received a 48-7 drubbing at No. 2 LSU in its second game. But the Hokies defeated three ranked foes that year: No. 22 Clemson, No. 16 Virginia and No. 12 Boston College in the ACC title game. The Hokies lost, 24-21, to No. 8 Kansas in the Orange Bowl.

"It's not where you start; the most important thing is where you finish," running backs coach Billy Hite said the week of the Alabama game. "If you're going to get beat, get beat early. Don't get beat late."

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