Virginia Tech's students, out of school on fall break all week, are trickling back into town, the dorms re-opening early to accommodate them. Alumni and fans are arriving as well, their cars decorated with large Hokies magnets and orange and maroon flags.
Signs outside area restaurants and stores have been converted--as they are for all home football games--into personalized billboards. "Hokie Holiday," one sign reads. "Menu: No Turkey, but plenty of Eagle Puddin'!"
The main course this Thanksgiving weekend: Friday's matchup between No. 2 Virginia Tech and No. 22 Boston College at 2:30 p.m. on CBS.
"This is absolutely, without question, the biggest week ever at Virginia Tech," said Coach Frank Beamer, whose team is 10-0 and one win from becoming the first in school history to win 11 games. "It's not many times going into a football game you can say, okay, now if you win you're going to be the Big East football champions . . . plus you're going to have a chance to play for the national championship. So it's very defined how important this week is--it's the most important ever at Virginia Tech."
A win would put Virginia Tech on track for a date with Florida State in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl to decide the national championship, though that will not be determined officially until after No. 3 Nebraska completes its season against Colorado on Friday and Texas on Dec. 4 in the Big 12 championship game. The Bowl Championship Series rankings take into account strength of schedule and use an array of polls, so it is possible the Cornhuskers (9-1) could pass the Hokies in the ratings that will determine the Sugar Bowl participants.
"We just have to go out there and prepare like we would for any other game," Virginia Tech wide receiver Andre Davis said. "We can't worry about Nebraska . . . or what's going to happen if we play Florida State. We just have to worry about Boston College."
And the Eagles give the Hokies plenty of reason for concern. A preseason pick to finish fifth in the Big East, Boston College instead is 8-2, with both of those losses--to Temple and Miami--coming off blown leads. The Eagles led the Hurricanes, 28-0, before letting them back into the game. They come to Blacksburg on the heels of their emotional, 31-29 come-from-behind victory over rival Notre Dame last weekend, their first win over the Fighting Irish since 1994. It is a dramatic change for a program that just three years ago was rocked by a gambling scandal and then suffered through back-to-back 4-7 seasons.
"This is a team that could very, very easily be undefeated themselves," Beamer said.
Now the team long known for pulling off big upsets--mostly notably over Miami and Notre Dame--has every intention of doing so in Blacksburg.
"This is an opportunity for us to make a huge statement in a game that has great national implications," Eagles cornerback Pedro Cirino said. "If they expect to just walk over us, they're in for some trouble. We're going to shock everyone."
Boston College is both balanced and explosive. Tailback Cedric Washington averages 101.7 yards rushing per game and the Eagles also offer the dangerous combination of quarterback Tim Hasselbeck and wide receiver DuJuan Daniels. Hasselbeck completed 20 of 30 passes for 272 and three touchdowns against Notre Dame and also ran for 60 yards and one score. Though the Hokies' defense has allowed just 65.4 yards rushing per game, it has appeared vulnerable at times against the pass.
Still, Virginia Tech offers a dangerous combination of its own. The Hokies--led by quarterback Michael Vick (228.2 yards of total offense per game) and defensive end Corey Moore (15 sacks)--boast the nation's highest scoring offense at 41.7 points per game and the nation's second-best scoring defense at 10.2 ppg. Virginia Tech manhandled the three previous ranked teams it faced this season--Virginia, Syracuse and Miami--by a combined score of 136-17.
"This is the game for all the marbles," Moore said. "Emotions will be riding high, but we've done a good job of keeping everything in perspective the whole season and I don't expect this to be any different. Everybody realizes how important this game is, for so many reasons."
CAPTION: Quarterback Michael Vick leads nation's highest-scoring offense (41.7 points per game) against Boston College.