Virginia Tech has learned that sportsmanship is a virtue not always rewarded in college football. So it is close to mandatory for the No. 2 Hokies not only to beat No. 19 Miami in their Big East Conference showdown tonight in Blacksburg but also to do so decisively.

Just winning last week, at so-so West Virginia on a last-second field goal, caused Virginia Tech (8-0) to fall in several of the computer rankings used to determine the Bowl Championship Series rankings, which will decide who plays for the national title. That drop, combined with the Hokies' mediocre strength-of-schedule ranking, enabled Tennessee (7-1) to overtake Virginia Tech for the No. 2 spot in this week's BCS rankings--a position that became available when Penn State was upset by Minnesota.

The Hokies know they have to reestablish their mettle tonight in a game that will be shown nationally on ESPN.

"Our deal is let's concentrate on the only thing we can do to affect that whole situation, and that is play great against Miami," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "We feel fortunate to have won our past two games [including a 30-17 victory at Pittsburgh on Oct. 30], but we don't feel like we've played as well as we could have."

Losing to Miami, which also is undefeated in Big East play, could be extremely costly for the Hokies. Their national championship hopes would be dashed, of course, but Miami would grab sole possession of first place in the conference, too. That means the Hurricanes would be in position to get the conference's spot in a BCS game.

In other games today involving area teams, Maryland throws freshman quarterback Latrez Harrison against top-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee; Navy tries to avoid its first winless season at home since 1991 when it hosts Tulane; Virginia seems almost certain to gain the victory it needs to become eligible for a bowl when it plays Buffalo in Charlottesville and Howard visits Morgan State in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game.

Virginia Tech has won its past four games with Miami, although the most recent two have been by a total of nine points.

The Hokies' tough defense will be challenged by a Miami offense that features a potent quartet--quarterback Kenny Kelly, tight end Bubba Franks and wide receivers Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne.

"We go up against the best quarterback in the nation every day in practice," said Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore, referring to redshirt freshman Michael Vick. Nationally, Vick is rated third after completing 57 percent of his 106 passes for 1,228 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has run for 324 yards and five touchdowns.

Maryland was trying to avoid having to force the exceptionally talented Harrison into any starting role this season, let alone against Florida State. But redshirt freshman Calvin McCall suffered a ligament tear in his left knee late in last week's loss to North Carolina State and also will miss the regular season finale, Nov. 20 at home against Virginia.

The Terrapins need to beat Florida State or the Cavaliers to qualify for a bowl bid. They caught a break Thursday night when N.C. State, also in contention for one of five potential bowl bids for ACC teams, lost to North Carolina. Because the Wolfpack (6-5) plays a 12-game schedule, it needs seven victories to become bowl eligible. Its last game is next weekend at No. 24 East Carolina.

The Seminoles have won their past 45 home games and have lost just twice--to Virginia and North Carolina State--in 63 ACC games. Maryland has played at Florida State three times and lost by 69-21, 59-17 and 50-7.

Harrison is immensely confident, calling this "the opportunity of a lifetime" and adding, "I'll play against anybody."

There were several unsettling moments in practice, however. The worst came late Wednesday, when tailback LaMont Jordan, fullback Matt Kalapinski and the offensive line went one way on an option play, Harrison went the other and quickly collided with an unblocked defender. As to how Harrison had practiced this week, Coach Ron Vanderlinden rolled his eyes and said: "You'd expect some bumps in the road for him in any first game, let alone against these guys."

Navy has lost its past six home games against Division I-A teams. But Tulane has lost three straight and has yet to win on the road this season. Navy quarterback Brian Broadwater, who suffered a broken collarbone against Akron Oct. 23, began throwing this week. Brian Madden has played well in the two games as his replacement.

Virginia gets what should be a breather in Buffalo, which has lost all nine games in its first Division I-A season. Quarterback Dan Ellis returns after missing last week's 45-38 upset of Georgia Tech with lingering effects of a concussion he suffered the week before against Florida State.

Howard tries for its third straight victory. Morgan State will be using its fourth quarterback this season, Michael Lester, who as a wide receiver leads the team in receptions and yardage.

Staff writer Angie Watts and special correspondents Jeff Seidel, Rich Scherr and Chris Nehls contributed to this report.