Their mascot may be the Hokies, but there is absolutely nothing hokey about the Virginia Tech football team that plays the Arkansas Razorbacks on Dec. 29 in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte, N.C.
The No. 18 Hokies (9-4) more than proved that last Saturday in the ACC Championship game, battling No. 3 Clemson to the wire before falling, 42-35.
Virginia Tech might not conjure up the image of a football powerhouse to Hogs fans that have concentrated on SEC and SWC football for most of their lives, but former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer built the program into a perennial winner in 1990s and 2000s. Beamer’s teams won 10 or more games a year from 2004-2011.
This is also the 24th consecutive year that the Hokies have earned a bowl bid, which is the longest bowl streak in college football, according to ESPN.
“Coach Beamer and his teams built Virginia Tech into the nation’s most consistent postseason participant and we appreciate the standard we’re expected to uphold.” First-year Hokies coach Justin Fuentes said in a statement released by Virginia Tech. “For myself, these seniors and this entire squad, we felt an obligation to extend Coach Beamer’s bowl streak. Now, our objective is to prepare and play to the best of our ability to conclude this season with a victory. I can’t thank Hokie Nation enough for their unwavering support and our team looks forward to seeing the stands packed with Maroon and Orange in Charlotte.”
Fuente has Virginia Tech on the cusp of another double-digit win season, with only the Razorbacks standing in their way.
Despite the communications snafu that left Virginia Tech off Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s ballot for the Amway Coaches Poll, Fuente avoided making something out of the mishap in quotes released by Virginia Tech’s media relations department.
“Our fans have been fabulous all season, and I know Hokie Nation will be anxious to join us in Charlotte for the Belk Bowl,” Fuente said. “As I told the team after last night’s game, our seniors deserve to end their careers out on a positive note. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to this senior class and our staff will do everything possible to prepare our squad to face a quality foe like Arkansas.”
But you know the mix-up will be mentioned as motivation as the Hokies prepare for the bowl game.
I have to admit that I hadn’t paid a ton of attention to the Hokies this year since their 45-24 loss to Tennessee in the much-ballyhooed Battle at Bristol on the second weekend of the season, but Virginia Tech had a solid year. The losses to Syracuse and Georgia Tech don’t necessarily jibe with the rest of their accomplishments, but if anyone should understand the rigors of conference play, it should be Razorbacks fans.
Bielema is the only Razorbacks football coach to ever win consecutive bowl games, but he and his Hogs might have a difficult time extending that streak.
Going into the Texas Bowl in 2014 against Texas and the Liberty Bowl last year against Kansas State, it appeared the Razorbacks were the better football team, and those matchup did prove to be favorable to the Hogs.
That’s not the case going into the Belk Bowl. In fact with Blacksburg being just 175-mile drive from Charlotte, once could accuse Belk Bowl officials of setting up a pig roast for the Hokies.
If any of the Razorbacks players are offered an apple when they are welcomed off the plane by Belk Bowl officials, they should promptly turn them down. It would be a bad omen to see a Hog biting into an apple before the game.
The Hokies average 35 points per game, while giving up 22.7. They are a balanced team, leaning slightly more toward the passing game, averaging 263 passing yards a game and 184.9 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Jerod Evans leads the Hokies in rushing with 759 yards and 10 TDs for an average of 58.4 yards per game. Travon McMillian averaged 49 yards a game and scored 6 touchdowns with a total of 637 yards on the season.
Evans is one of the more efficient passers in the college game. He completed 247 of 387 passes (63.5 percent) for 3,303 yards, 37 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Like other dual-threat quarterbacks this season, he will be a chore for the Hogs to handle.
Defensively, the Hokies are still directed by Bud Foster, a 2006 Broyles Award winner and four-time nominee. This isn’t among the best of Foster’s defenses at Virginia Tech, but they are solid allowing 400 yards passing per game, but just 148.5 on the ground.
With a month between games, bowl games are difficult to figure. With only pride on the line, it’s often the team that the game means the most to that comes out on top. It’s hard to figure the intangibles this far out. Bielema has proven to be a solid bowl coach at Arkansas, but he has a .500 record in bowls overall at 4-4. His Wisconsin teams went 2-4 in bowl games.
Fuente is 1-0 in bowl games, guiding Memphis to a 55-48 victory over BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl in 2014. His Memphis team went to the Birmingham Bowl last year, but Fuente did not coach in it after taking the Virginia Tech job.
I do not like this matchup for the Razorbacks. That being said, if the Hogs find a way to win the game, it would be a fine victory. It would be a momentum boost going into a very important offseason in Bielema’s tenure as the Hogs’ head coach.