No. 24 Virginia will announce a sellout crowd Saturday when it hosts No. 6 Virginia Tech for the first time since Nov. 28, 2009, the last time the Cavaliers hosted Virginia Tech.
And for good reason. The winner of Saturday’s game will represent the ACC’s Coastal Division in the conference title game against Clemson.
Cavaliers Coach Mike London and his players did their best not to say anything provocative Monday (Linebacker Aaron Taliaferro acknowledged that he hated Virginia Tech. But no more so than any other team.), and that’s all well and good. The more noteworthy point, in their view, is that for the first time in a few years, this game means something aside from the natural contention that arises in an in-state rivalry.
“It’s great to know that in November we’re still talking about Virginia football as being relevant,” London said. “It’s great to know that on this game, that there’s a lot at stake here. So it’s an opportunity to play in the last game of the year that decides whether you have a chance to play for goals that you’ve set coming into the season.”
Indeed, one of the objectives the Cavaliers set in August was to win six games and become bowl eligible. They’ve won eight.
Entering the season, Virginia hadn’t won a game in the month of November since 2007. The Cavaliers are 3-0 thus far in November in 2011.
Prior to Saturday, Virginia never had won at Florida State. The Cavaliers defeated the Seminoles, 14-13, in Tallahassee in dramatic fashion. Virginia has three wins all-time in the state of Florida. Two of them occurred this fall.
The Hokies, on the other hand, have won the ACC title four of the past seven years. They’re a little more used to the atmosphere that likely will be created Saturday at Scott Stadium. As London noted, the degree of success Virginia has experienced this season is new to the players in his program. “Uncharted territory,” he called it.
“And so there doesn’t have to be any fake hype or fake talk or anything like that,” London said. “We don’t need any of that Twitter account stuff, Facebook stuff, going back and forth. We’re in-state rivals, and it would be characterized to say that how they feel about us and we feel about them.”
In a departure from recent years past, Saturday’s game doesn’t have to be solely about how Virginia doesn’t like Virginia Tech and vice versa. The bad blood and all that, it’s a cute storyline if you’re really stretching for a compelling storyline.
What’s intriguing about this year’s Virginia-Virginia Tech game is that there is no shortage of compelling storylines. Virginia Tech, per usual, is a solid team playing for a spot in the ACC title game.
And so is Virginia.
This game will stand as a critical point in both team’s seasons. It also is capable of serving as a critical point in this rivalry. Virginia Tech has won 11 of its past 12 games against Virginia; the Cavaliers have not defeated the Hokies since 2003.
Since London took over in December 2009, he and his staff have revitalized in short order Virginia’s recruiting image, particularly in regards to in-state high schools and in-state recruits.
Surprisingly, the Cavaliers’ on-field progression has been fairly rapid, as well. They were 4-8 last year in London’s first season at the helm, remember? Players like fifth-year senior wide receiver Kris Burd do. He was here in 2007 when Virginia went 9-4, and he was here in 2008 and 2009 when Virginia went a combined 8-16.
To guys like him, Saturday’s game is about beating an in-state rival, sure. But on a grander scale, it’s about leaving a footprint worth being proud of.
“Us fifth-year seniors, we talk a lot about the legacy we want to leave behind and being that class that turns the (Virginia) football program back around and brought it back to the light that it should be in,” Burd said. “It’s something that we think about and talk about, just the legacy and how we want to be remembered.
“We have a lot of big wins this season, but this is really that game that really counts. To get us to an ACC championship game and just go out there and beat (Virginia Tech), it’s something that hasn’t been done around here in a long time. It will be something that will be remembered and will be just an echoing part of history.”