Virginia Tech's players and coaches have been awash in postseason honors since the team finished its football schedule three weeks ago with an 11-0 record, earning a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Those granting awards aren't the only ones who have taken notice of the team. Merchandise sales are skyrocketing and on Thursday, Virginia Tech unveiled a new cereal, "Hokie Toasties," that will be sold for a limited time to commemorate the Hokies' national championship appearance Jan. 4 against Florida State.

But with all the novelties success has brought, some things have not changed. Virginia Tech, which began preparation for the bowl game today, is back in the comfortable role of underdog. Florida State, which will be playing in its third title game in four years, is expected to win. Despite the Hokies' ongoing quest for national respect, that is something this blue-collar team doesn't mind.

"I'm sure Florida State thinks this is a big game, but I'm also sure their players are saying, 'Who is Virginia Tech?' " cornerback Ike Charlton said. "And that's going to be their mistake."

It is a mistake that the Hokies think will give them the perfect opportunity to bring home the university's first national title.

"I think they better be concerned about us because we have nothing to lose. All of the pressure is on them," defensive end Corey Moore said. "It's going to be very hard for their coaches to convince them that we can beat them and that's good because that's just their mentality. I've heard a lot of their guys question whether or not we should even be there and that's fine, too. Because by the time they realize we can beat them, it's going to be too late."

Toughening the Schedule

Virginia Tech has been criticized all season for its weak schedule, but Athletic Director Jim Weaver said he will make no apologies for the Hokies' opponents. He has, however, been working to improve the schedule, though the effects won't be seen for a few years.

Most of the Hokies' nonconference opponents for the next two seasons are far from appealing for fans: In 2000, Virginia Tech will play Akron (Ohio), East Carolina, Virginia and Central Florida in its four nonconference games. In 2001, the Hokies again face Virginia, as well as Western Michigan, Connecticut and Central Florida.

"Obviously, 2001 is the least attractive schedule on paper," Weaver said. "We are upgrading our schedule, but obviously that can't happen overnight. But what I see is a program that is really on the rise."

Weaver already has signed home-and-away deals to play Texas A&M in 2002 and 2003, North Carolina in 2004 and 2007, Wisconsin in 2008 and 2009, Auburn in 2010 and 2011, and Illinois in 2012 and 2013. The Hokies will continue to play rival Virginia each season and will face Marshall in 2002.

Time Out for Sheepskin

Six Virginia Tech football players will take a few minutes from practice Saturday to receive something they've worked harder on than January's shot at the national title: their college diplomas. In addition to Moore, who graduated last May and is enrolled in graduate school, four seniors from the veteran defense will graduate Saturday: cornerbacks Anthony Midget and Charlton, linebacker Michael Hawkes and defensive end John Engelberger. Also graduating will be back-up quarterback Dave Meyer and long snapper Shayne Beamer, Coach Frank Beamer's son.

"As they look back, this will be one of the biggest accomplishments they've ever had in their life, getting that college degree," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "We're extremely proud of them, but again it goes back to the kind of individuals those guys are. The day they came on campus, they were exceptionally motivated to be [a] success off the field as well as on."