Virginia Tech, Boise State meet in marquee college football matchup

Rashad Carmichael, front, said he has become a closet Boise State fan over the years.
Rashad Carmichael, front, said he has become a closet Boise State fan over the years.
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By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 6, 2010; 12:09 AM

BLACKSBURG, VA. - Rashad Carmichael acknowledges that he's become a closet Boise State fan over the past few years. Sitting in his hotel room on Friday nights, passing the time until Virginia Tech played the following day, the fifth-year senior cornerback watched the Broncos frequently. Boise State played nine games on Friday nights in the last three seasons.

"I always said, 'I wish we could get a chance to play them,' " said Carmichael, a Clinton native. "So it's kind of crazy that we get this chance."

On Monday night, No. 3 Boise State and No. 10 Virginia Tech will face off at FedEx Field in the final game of college football's opening weekend, a contest many around the country are calling the marquee nonconference matchup of the season.

It's also a showcase of two programs that have risen from humble beginnings to join college football's elite in the past three decades. Virginia Tech was an independent with little football tradition before Coach Frank Beamer was hired in 1987. Boise State, which went undefeated in 2009 and has a 49-4 record the past four seasons, was a junior college until 1965, and its football program only began competing at the division I level in 1996.

That the two meet Monday in such a high-profile game is a surprise to even those involved.

"A couple magazines had us as the number one nonconference game in the country this year and when you think about all the great programs that [are] playing each other, for Boise State and Virginia Tech to be the best nonconference game, somebody 10 years ago would have never picked that game," Beamer said last week. "I think both of us have certainly changed the way people have thought about us over the past few years."

But this won't be the first time the Hokies play such a high-stakes contest to begin the season. In fact, they've made it a habit of late.

In last season's opener, Virginia Tech lost to eventual national champion Alabama in Atlanta, 34-24. In 2007, the Hokies traveled to Louisiana State in the second week of the season, suffering a 48-7 loss. The Tigers also went on to win the national championship that year. In 2004, Virginia Tech opened its season at Fedex Field, losing 24-13 to No. 1 Southern California.

The past results have forced Beamer, who has won at least 10 games the past six seasons, to weigh the pros and cons of taking on highly ranked teams so early in the season. He said having an opponent like Boise State to look forward to creates crisp preseason practices that ultimately make the Hokies a better football team. Beamer believes losing one game to a top-ranked opponent does not necessarily remove Virginia Tech from the BCS picture, though he admits it forces the Hokies to rely on other teams' results to make a national championship run.

"But I think the things against it are certainly, you take a chance on losing early," said Beamer, whose team also lost to East Carolina in the opening game of 2008. "And the fact that . . . the first time we tee it up against somebody different, we're keeping the score for real."

Since the BCS places little weight on strength of schedule, some coaches have questioned whether it's worth playing another prestigious program early in the season. Last week, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops told reporters such games offered "high risk" and " low reward."

Virginia Tech does not gravitate toward such a philosophy. Monday's game was originally supposed to take place in early October, but the two teams agreed to push it up to Labor Day weekend at the request of ESPN. In addition, the Hokies have early-season home-and-home series scheduled with Ohio State, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and Kansas State over the next decade.

"When you play a top 10 football team, regardless of what their name is, and you're playing it at a time when there are not that many other games, it's tremendous exposure," said Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver, who played and later became an assistant coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State. "I happen to believe that every time you turn one of those down, it's an opportunity for people to see your football program and your school and your campus that you can never recover because it's lost and gone forever."

Perhaps most importantly, players and fans relish the opportunity to see their team in the national spotlight, despite the risks of an early loss.

Junior wide receiver Dyrell Roberts was in a 50-person class last week when the teacher asked how many would actually be in attendance Tuesday morning in Blacksburg. Roberts, a human development major, said only three of his classmates raised their hands, forcing the teacher to cancel class.

"Hopefully we can make it worth missing that day of class," said Roberts with a smile. "Being able to open up the season with all these big games, it adds a whole lot of excitement. . . . It brings chills down your spine because you know it's gonna be Monday night, we in the Redskins stadium, and we the only game on."

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