On the one hand, Virginia's football game today against Virginia Tech means nothing. The 17th-ranked Cavaliers (8-2) are set to play in the Sugar Bowl, and the game's executive director, Mickey Holmes, said this week they will receive their official invitation today whether they win or lose.

On the other hand, Virginia's game today against Virginia Tech (5-5) means everything. In-commonwealth bragging rights are at issue, and Blacksburg's Lane Stadium (normal capacity of 51,000) has been augmented to accommodate about 54,000, which would be the largest crowd to see a game in Virginia.

ESPN's presence officially makes this the biggest football game for Virginia Tech since the Hokies were in the 1986 Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

Besides, who ever heard of an unranked team with an 8-3 record -- even one that had been 7-0 and ranked No. 1 -- playing the Southeastern Conference champion in the Sugar Bowl? That is the position Virginia would be in if it finished the regular season with its third loss in four games.

"I don't think there's any question our backs are against the wall," Cavaliers wide receiver Derek Dooley said.

That is not the place Virginia wants to be without senior quarterback Shawn Moore. But the Kodak first-team all-American and Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year dislocated his right thumb last Saturday in a 35-30 loss to Maryland. So junior Matt Blundin will start.

He has played in plenty of high-pressure, high-intensity games as a member of Virginia's basketball team. But his only real exposure to that type of atmosphere in a Virginia football uniform came last season, when he replaced an injured Moore for a nationally televised game at Clemson's nearly 80,000-seat Memorial Stadium. He completed 14 of 34 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

He recalled this week that after the game he said to his father: "I'd like to play in front of that many people, that loud a crowd, every week."

He should get his wish today.

"Aw man, everybody here is excited," said Virginia Tech safety Damien Russell, a junior from H.D. Woodson High School. "We've had two weeks to prepare for Virginia and I think we have a good game plan for them. I wish we could play them today."

Russell tried to explain what traditionally sets Virginia and Virginia Tech at odds. "From what I've been told," he said, "U-Va. is supposed to be all snooty and think they are a lot better than other people."

Although the Hokies have lost to Virginia in each of the last three seasons, each game has been decided by seven points or fewer.

Virginia Tech's wide-tackle-six defense is a scheme Virginia does not see very often, and it usually makes running the ball difficult. In addition, by bringing eight players close to the line of scrimmage, it could enable the Hokies to heavily rush Blundin, who is less mobile than Moore.

The down side to the wide-tackle-six alignment is that it uses only three defensive backs. Blundin has a terrific arm and plenty of excellent receivers.

Virginia's other potential problem is its defense. At times, it has made allegedly suspect offenses look like the Cavaliers' offense. Hokies junior quarterback Will Furrer is completing nearly 60 percent of his passes and starting tailback Vaughn Hebron is supposed to return after missing the last 3 1/2 games because of a groin injury. The Hokies also have Marcus Mickel, a junior wide receiver with sprinter's speed.

In addition, Virginia Tech's .500 record hides the fact that all of its losses (to Maryland, South Carolina, Florida State, Temple and Georgia Tech) were decided in the final half of the fourth quarter and by a combined 35 points.

The two times Virginia has been taken to the finish (by Maryland and Georgia Tech), it has lost. Both of those games games have taken place in the last three weeks.

"We haven't gotten down on ourselves," said Moore. "You can see the enthusiasm is still there. Virginia Tech is treating us as the biggest game of the year, so we don't want to go out there and be down or be stiff. This is also a big game for us."