If having two undefeated and nationally ranked teams playing at Lane Stadium today wasn't enough to charge up the Virginia Tech fans, then the ESPN trucks rolling into campus earlier this week surely did.
Not since you-know-who was playing quarterback for the Hokies have they faced such high expectations and tremendous possibilities. And with Michael Vick's younger brother, Marcus, leading the Virginia Tech offense, the Hokies are seizing the national spotlight.
ESPN pulled its popular "GameDay" show out of Baton Rouge, La., this week because of the threat of Hurricane Rita. The show will be broadcast live from Blacksburg before today's nationally televised game between the No. 4 Hokies and No. 15 Yellow Jackets.
"It's been a long time since I've seen this many satellite trucks, reporters, cameras, microphones," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer told reporters after practice Thursday. "I'm telling you, I don't think I've ever seen that many media people on our practice field at one time. But it's what I want for this program. We take it as a compliment. It's a good problem to have."
Both teams are 3-0 and the winner of today's game will take the lead in the ACC's Coastal Division with six conference games to play. The Hokies, who haven't been ranked this high in the national polls during the regular season since Michael Vick played in 1999 and 2000, also can remain in the race for the national championship.
The schools haven't played with this much at stake since 1990, when Georgia Tech's Scott Sisson kicked two field goals, including a 38-yarder with eight seconds left, to give the Yellow Jackets a 6-3 win at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. That was the last time Georgia Tech started a season 4-0 and it went on to win a co-national championship.
No wonder Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball spent the past few days trying to recover from viral meningitis so he could play against the Hokies. Ball, who missed last week's 28-13 victory over Connecticut while he was hospitalized in Atlanta, practiced Thursday and took more snaps than backup Taylor Bennett.
Yellow Jackets Coach Chan Gailey, who coached the Dallas Cowboys for two seasons, said Ball will probably play today, but didn't say whether the junior will start the game. Ball, perhaps the ACC's most improved quarterback with three touchdown passes and one interception in two games, might not have the energy to play the entire game, so Bennett could play against the Hokies, too.
Bennett, a redshirt freshman from Chesterfield, Mo., played for the first time against the Huskies and threw for 142 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions.
"We've designed our game play to be able to handle both playing, or either one playing the whole ballgame," Gailey said. "You can't ask Taylor to do some things Reggie can do just from an experience standpoint. Things that will be in there for Taylor will be things that we know he has practiced a lot."
Because of Ball's improved play, a strong running game with P.J. Daniels and Oklahoma transfer Tashard Choice and a stingy defense led by coordinator Jon Tenuta, the Yellow Jackets look a lot like the Hokies of last season. Virginia Tech was coming off a disappointing 8-5 record in 2003, but surprised nearly everyone by finishing 10-3 and winning the ACC in its first season in the league.
With Gailey seemingly on the hot seat after the Yellow Jackets won seven games in each of the last three seasons, Georgia Tech has exceeded expectations so far against one of the country's toughest schedules. The Yellow Jackets upset defending Southeastern Conference champion Auburn, 23-14, on the road in their opener, and then beat North Carolina, 27-21, in their second game.
Georgia Tech has been more tested than the Hokies, who barely won at North Carolina State, 20-16, in their opener, and then posted consecutive 45-0 shutouts of Duke and Ohio the past two weeks.
"They keep pressure on you at all times," Gailey said of the Hokies. "They keep pressure on you on offense, they keep pressure on you on defense and they keep pressure on you on special teams. When you play against a great football team, they keep pressure on you for 60 minutes. Whichever team flinches first is probably going to lose."