Instead of using a convincing victory to keep ascending through the national college football polls, the Virginia Tech Hokies backed into the highest ranking in the program's history this week -- No. 8 -- by being idle while two teams ahead them, Miami and Wisconsin, lost.

Tonight, in a nationally televised game against Clemson, the Hokies will try to prove that their ranking is deserved.

"A lot of people still don't realize how good we are, how good we can be," junior rover Cory Bird said. "I think this will give us the chance to show that to others."

Virginia Tech won at Clemson, 37-0, last season, but is 0-4 all-time against the Tigers at Lane Stadium. The teams last met in Blacksburg in 1989, and Clemson won, 27-7.

"This is going to be the greatest atmosphere we've ever had at Virginia Tech, and we're proud of that," Coach Frank Beamer said of what is expected to be the team's third consecutive sellout. "But we have to be careful not to get too tied up into the atmosphere."

And the person for whom that could be the biggest problem is the starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Michael Vick. He will be back in the lineup after missing the Hokies' 31-10 victory over Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 11 because of a sprained left ankle. But his collegiate career amounts only to the quarter-and-a-half he played in Virginia Tech's season-opening, 47-0 blowout of James Madison before being injured. He did have the crowd on its feet during that time, though, completing 4 of 6 passes for 110 yards and rushing for three touchdowns.

Clemson will counter with senior quarterback Brandon Streeter, who threw four interceptions in last season's loss to Virginia Tech. He took much of the blame for the Tigers' 3-8 record in 1998, which ended with coach Tommy West's dismissal.

This season, Streeter has drawn rave reviews while flourishing in new coach Tommy Bowden's wide-open offense. Streeter (47 of 68 passing for 530 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions) shredded Virginia's secondary Sept. 11 for a school-record 343 yards passing in a 33-14 upset of the then-No. 22 Cavaliers.

Still, Streeter must be given time to throw -- and he didn't get it last season against Virginia Tech, which held the Tigers to 102 yards. "That was the worst I've been hit," Streeter said. "It was frustrating. It was just one of those bad days at the office."

The problem for Clemson last year -- and what could be the key tonight -- is the lack of a running game. Junior Javis Austin, the Tigers' leading rusher, has 90 yards on 26 carries through two games. Combine those numbers with a Virginia Tech defense that leads the nation in total yards allowed (136.5 per game) and is fifth nationally in scoring defense (five points per game), and that could spell trouble for Clemson.

Also, the Hokies' offense is more balanced than Clemson's. Junior tailback Shyrone Stith has carried 47 times for 246 yards this season.

"I think this is a game that you go out and play and understand that this is the moment you've been waiting for," Beamer said. "We think we've got a good football team, and at the end of the night people will either say you belong [at No. 8] or you don't. What we have to do is think small. We have to worry about every play. The rankings are great, but right now we have to get ready to battle."

Hokies Notes: Virginia Tech defensive tackle Nathaniel Williams will miss his second consecutive game. He had been recovering from a knee injury, then came down with chicken pox. Clemson will be without two starters, guard Will Merritt (broken collarbone) and defensive end Gary Childress (pulled calf muscle).

Clemson vs. No. 8 Virginia Tech

Where: Lane Stadium,

Blacksburg, Va.

When: 8 p.m.

TV: ESPN.

Radio: WAGE-1200.