The drive is peaceful along Route 460. The landscape is pastoral and the only noticeable movement comes from grazing cows.

Nestled in these hills is Virginia Tech, the state's largest university. "You can't find a prettier place to live than right here," said Bill Dooley, the school's athletic director and football coach.

But all this beauty and serenity has caused a problem for Virginia Tech's athletic department. It's hard to attract media attention when your town's tallest building is a silo and the closest thing to a metropolis is 3 1/2 hours away in Richmond.

"No question that it's a major problem being in a small town without our own major media," Bill Matthews, the associate athletic director, said. "We're still struggling for identity. Whenever we get in the top 20 and lose, we immediately drop out forever."

These are the best days in the best era of Virginia Tech sports. The football team went 8-4 after losing to Air Force in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., the Hokies' second bowl game in 16 years. Last month, defensive tackle Bruce Smith became the first Virginia collegian to win the Outland trophy as the nation's top lineman. And the basketball team is 8-3 and, although now unranked, made the top 20 earlier this season and hopes to make it back before the season ends.

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished," Dooley said. "In the last five years, we have averaged eight wins per year in football, 20 in basketball and close to 40 in baseball. How many schools can say that?"

Not many.

How many people know about that?

Not many.

The problem has lessened gradually since the arrival of Dooley in 1978. He is a Southern-gentleman type you might expect to find at a Baptist church picnic instead of running a million-dollar operation. When he came from the University of North Carolina, alumni were donating about $400,000 each year to the athletic fund. Now they give more than $1 million.

"I had been the head football coach at North Carolina for 11 years and we went to six bowls," Dooley said. "But I came here because of the idea of being both athletic director and football coach. I felt I needed a new challenge -- and this time I had the challenge of not only building a new program, but of building an overall program."

Because of him, Virginia Tech became affiliated with the Metro Conference in 1978 for all sports except football. The Hokies had been starving for exposure while Atlantic Coast Conference rivals were piling up television revenue.

Because of him, Virginia Tech has added a $2.3 million athletic facility with offices and training equipment, lights for 52,000-seat Lane Stadium, and a new athletic dormitory, and has appeared more often on regional football and basketball telecasts.

Dooley's first love remains coaching football, and he has made the Hokies a perennial winner. The school had finished above .500 in only three of nine seasons when he moved up from Chapel Hill. After rebuilding years of 4-7 and 5-6, Virginia Tech has gone 8-4 (with a Peach Bowl berth), 7-4, 7-4, 9-2 and 8-4 in the '80s.

The average home attendance was 29,000 in 1978. Now it is about 40,000.

"This success all falls back to recruiting," Dooley said. "The reason for the rise in football is that we've been able to keep more of our local players at home -- those from D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Guys like Tony Paige, Bruce Smith and Ashley Lee."

Paige, out of DeMatha High School, is a rookie fullback with the New York Jets. Lee, from Virginia's peanut belt, is a safety with seven interceptions. And Smith, from Norfolk, a sure shot to be a first-round NFL draft choice, has been picked first by the U.S. Football League's Baltimore Stars.

"I came here because I didn't want to go out of state," Smith said. "I want this state to get all that it is due. The job Dooley has done here is great. And you have to realize, if you produce, eventually you'll get recognized."

But there have been some major misses, too. Wouldn't Dooley like to see Sterling's Allen Pinkett or Virginia Beach's D.J. Dozier as his tailback? They chose Notre Dame and Penn State, respectively, and will be Heisman trophy candidates next year.

Dooley's team has had other problems, too. In the spring of last year, the NCAA gave Virginia Tech a "slap on the wrist" for minor recruiting violations. Because of it, Smith was declared ineligible to play in the Independence Bowl, a ruling that was overturned in court.

The Hokies' 9-2 season a year ago brought no bowl bid. "I was very disapointed with that," Dooley said. "We had our best won-lost record in 78 years and didn't go to a bowl."

Why? The Hokies are not pretty to watch. Dooley's nickname is the "Trench Fighter" because he thrives on tough defense and the running game. But Tech does not attract many bowl scouts or national television cameras.

The state press has criticized Dooley for his boring offense, weak schedule and inability to beat championship-caliber opponents. The Hokies are 0-4 in bowls and haven't beaten a ranked team since 1972.

"Our goal is to be a top 20 team year in, year out," Dooley said.

Coach Charles Moir has molded an exciting basketball team, one that can beat anyone one night and lose to a stiff the next. His players can run and gun with the best, rebound with the worst and make every important game a close one.

Guard Dell Curry and forward Perry Young are two of the country's best players at their positions. Ever heard of Perry Young? He's from Ellicott City, Md., near Columbia and is a major reason the Hokies have played so well.

"We've gotten some recognition in recent years, but I don't know if it's what we deserved," said Moir, whose eight-year record at Virginia Tech before this season was 161-83. "But this year we've gotten so much to the point where it's scary."

The Hokies regularly draw more than 8,500 fans for Metro games in 10,000-seat Cassell Coliseum, an excellent campus arena. Large crowds already have attended games on this season's weak nonconference schedule (four MEAC teams).

"Coach Dooley has done a good job here," Moir said. "He's worked hard and had some good help in getting our facilities. We have good locker rooms, uniforms and a good recruiting budget.

"There has been a lot of support from the university administration. But we've still got to get more people to believe in us so they will loosen their money belts."

As with the football program, there are weaknesses. Moir has not been able to land the dynasty-building big man. Tech was among Ralph Sampson's final list of schools, and Tech also was high on the list of Chris Washburn, who chose North Carolina State last year.

Virginia Tech has had one losing season in the past 29 and made only four NCAA tournaments. The team went 20-11, 23-11 and 22-13 the last three years, ending each season in the NIT.

"Everybody strives for the level that North Carolina and Indiana are on," Moir said. "We just want to be the best that we can be."

"What's the biggest thing you need to reach the big time?" Dooley was asked.

He turned to see if anyone else was listening, then whispered, "Money."

"We're going to build a baseball field and a new track soon, for example. I'm very happy with where we are now, but you're never on top. You've got to keep on plugging. You can't do everything just like that."

The march toward the big time continues along Route 460.