Virginia Tech is headed back to the bowl game where its postseason history began 66 years ago.
The Hokies accepted an invitation Sunday night to play in the Sun Bowl and will face No. 17 UCLA of the Pacific-12 Conference on Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. It’s the first time Virginia Tech has been back to the El Paso bowl game since 1947, when it lost to Cincinnati, 18-6, in a cold, snow-filled matchup.
The Hokies will be making an appearance in a bowl game for the 21st straight season, the second-longest active streak amongst Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Virginia Tech and UCLA have never faced one another in football.
When the Orange Bowl selected Clemson as an at-large replacement for ACC champion Florida State — the Seminoles face No. 2 Auburn in the BCS national championship game — and the Chick-fil-A and Russell Athletic bowls opted to invite Duke and Miami, respectively, Sun Bowl Executive Director Bernie Olivas said the decision was “pretty unanimous” to bring the Hokies back to west Texas.
The Sun Bowl has the fourth choice of ACC teams and the third pick among Pac-12 teams during the bowl selection process.
After starting the season 6-1, Virginia Tech stumbled down the stretch, losing three of its final five games. The Sun Bowl will be the farthest west the Hokies (8-4) have traveled for a game since the 2003 Insight Bowl against California in Phoenix and the 1,713-mile trip from Blacksburg, Va., to El Paso could be too much for some fans.
“There is a distance issue, but I would hope the matchup with a team such as UCLA, that’s attractive,” Coach Frank Beamer said. “You always want to be the reputation that you travel, that the fans follow you to the bowl game and this is a different spot.”
In its second year under Coach Jim Mora, UCLA (9-3) rose as high as No. 9 in the Associated Press poll before losing consecutive games to Stanford and Oregon in October. The Bruins’ only other defeat came against Pac-12 South champion Arizona State.
Last week, Mora turned down overtures to be the next head coach at his alma mater, Washington.
“It really was an easy decision. It’s where my heart is. I’m excited about the direction of our program,” Mora said of UCLA. “We have a really good thing going and the commitment our administration has shown to football is resounding and I think it gives us a chance to be a national power and that’s what we’re after.”
UCLA features sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, the team’s leader in passing and rushing yards this season, and linebacker Anthony Barr, a finalist for several national defensive awards who is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
The Bruins also have linebacker-running back Myles Jack, the Pac-12’s freshman of the year on offense and defense after rushing for 267 yards and seven touchdowns and finishing with 70 tackles.
“I can guarantee you this,” Mora said on a Sun Bowl teleconference Sunday night. “UCLA is gonna put on a great show for you and you’re gonna love having us there.”