vs. Maryland, Nov. 18

There are several candidates for Tech's game of the year, starting with Saturday's opener against Southern Cal in FedEx Field that could turn ugly early and erode confidence.

Still, the Nov. 18 game in Blacksburg, Va., against Maryland stands out for several reasons. It's intriguing beyond the first meeting between close friends Frank Beamer and Ralph Friedgen. The schools compete and cooperate. They compete in recruiting and media exposure and operate a joint academic venture called the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, which was established in 1978.

There was an anticipated meeting in the Gator Bowl last season, which would have been the first since game between the schools since 1993, but Tech's late-season swoon spoiled it.

Some contrasts are obvious, with Tech having a three-year starter at quarterback in Bryan Randall and the Terrapins breaking in someone with little or no experience. Also, Maryland is ranked in the top 25; the Hokies do not have that distinction for the first time in several years.

Perhaps the most watched aspect is the recent history of both programs. Maryland has faltered early, then come on and been exceptionally strong late in the season. By contrast, Virginia Tech has gotten off to magnificent starts the past two seasons, vaulting into the top five each year, only to fold horribly down the stretch.

Hokies' Frank Beamer will coach Ralph Friedgen for the first time.