The University of Virginia's Scott Stadium doesn't have the enormity of Michigan Stadium, simply known as the "Big House" for having the largest capacity of any college football stadium in the country at more than 111,000. And, aside from Virginia's alumni and its fans in the commonwealth, it probably isn't as recognizable as Florida Field, commonly known as "The Swamp," or Notre Dame Stadium, where Fighting Irish fans can still see "Touchdown Jesus," the majestic mosaic on the side of Hesburgh Library, through the end zone.
But more and more, Scott Stadium has provided quite a home-field advantage for the Cavaliers during Al Groh's five seasons as coach of his alma mater. Virginia has won all five of its home games this season and has won 21 of its last 23 games at Scott Stadium since its 2002 season opener. The Cavaliers' only home losses during that stretch were a 19-14 defeat to No. 7 Florida State in 2003 and 31-21 to No. 18 Miami last season.
The Cavaliers, who became bowl eligible by beating then-No. 24 Georgia Tech, 27-17, in Charlottesville last weekend, will try to extend their home dominance when they host No. 7 Virginia Tech at noon on Saturday. Virginia has already beaten two ranked opponents at home this year -- along with the Yellow Jackets, the Cavaliers upset then-No. 4 Florida State, 26-21, on Oct. 15 -- and they've never beaten two top-10 opponents in the same season.
"I expect that we'll be playing the best team that we've played this year, by far, in terms of strength in all areas," Groh said. "That's not the coach speculating or hyping the team, the numbers say that."
The Hokies have certainly had Virginia's number lately, as they've won five of the past six games in the series, including a dominating 24-10 victory in Blacksburg last season. But Virginia Tech has had problems winning at Scott Stadium, losing three of its past seven games there, including a 35-21 loss in 2003. That loss knocked the Hokies out of the Associated Press top 25 ranking for the first time in 85 weeks.
"I'd like to think part of it is that [Scott Stadium] has become a real home field," Groh said. "I think it's become one of the places you really identify as being a really intense, passionate college football setting."
Saturday's atmosphere figures to be doubly intense, even though the Hokies were knocked out of the national championship race by a humbling 27-7 loss to Miami on Nov. 5. Virginia Tech, which is sixth in the Bowl Championship Series standings, is still in the hunt for a BCS at-large berth but probably needs help to claim a spot in one of college football's top four postseason bowl games.
The Hokies close the regular season next week against North Carolina in Blacksburg, and won't play in the inaugural ACC championship game in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 3 unless they win their last two games -- and Miami loses one of its last two games, against Georgia Tech on Saturday and against the Cavaliers next week.
"I think the proof will be Saturday," Hokies Coach Frank Beamer said. "Our seniors know what needs to happen, and I think our seniors will take over. We better be ready to play football, because this is a really good football team that's playing at home."
The Cavaliers, who figure to play in a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season, also can help themselves tremendously by upsetting the Hokies. With a 6-3 record, Virginia is looking to separate itself from the pack of other ACC teams with similar records. (Seven ACC teams have already qualified to play in the postseason, and Maryland can get its sixth victory by beating Boston College in College Park Saturday.) Virginia could go a long way in doing that by upsetting the Hokies or winning at No. 3 Miami next week.
"This is quite a briar patch we're going into," Groh said.
The Hokies might be walking into a briar patch as well. The Cavaliers will honor 13 seniors before the game, including quarterback Marques Hagans, tailback Wali Lundy and defensive end Brennan Schmidt (DeMatha), three of the team's captains. Virginia also will be closer to full strength, as three players who were suspended a week ago -- starting defensive nose tackle Kwakou Robinson, safety Tony Franklin and receiver Ottowa Anderson -- were reinstated to the team earlier this week and are expected to play.