NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A couple decades ago, few in college football would have dreamed of placing Virginia Tech in the same elite class as Michigan.
As the two teams collide in Tuesday night’s Sugar Bowl, however, the team more associated with sustained success in recent years won’t be wearing maize and blue.
Virginia Tech (11-2) has won no fewer than 10 games in eight straight seasons. The Hokies are the ones whose 19th straight bowl appearance represents one of the longest streaks in the country.
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If Virginia Tech has been short on anything since the program’s landmark victory over Texas in the Sugar Bowl that capped the 1995 season, it has been more victories in BCS bowls.
The Hokies have been to four since, losing them all, including twice in the Sugar Bowl — once against national champion Florida State in the 1999 season and once against unbeaten Auburn in 2004-05.
“We’ve had some great wins and we’ve done a great job getting here,” longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said Monday before posing for photos with Michigan coach Brady Hoke and the Sugar Bowl trophy. “Now we need to take that next step and get our share of the BCS wins. … The challenge to Virginia Tech and to the ACC right now is not only get here, but get a win.”
Beamer has already shown how serious he is about players emphasizing winning over partying, having sent home place kicker Tyler Weiss for a curfew violation. That left Tech thin at the position because top kicker Cody Journell had not even made the trip after his recent arrest in an alleged home invasion.
Still, this might be the right year for Virginia Tech to catch Michigan (10-2) in a BCS bowl, at least in terms of facing a Wolverines squad with relatively little experience in such an arena.
Michigan has not been to a BCS bowl since losing to Southern California in the Rose Bowl to conclude the 2006 season. Current Wolverines are in only their second bowl in four years, and none of them have a bowl victory to their name.
“We broke every record you didn’t want to break as a team,” Michigan senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. “We were the team that snapped the (33-year) bowl streak. We were seven (straight) losses against Ohio (State). We had done pretty much everything incorrectly.”
However, Hoke, in only his first season as head coach, has been able to re-establish a foundation of toughness and confidence at Michigan, an institution he has revered since childhood, despite growing up in Ohio.
Hoke was part of a national championship-winning coaching staff at Michigan under Lloyd Carr in 1997. When he returned to Ann Arbor in 2011 after leading San Diego State to a rare bowl victory, Michigan players responded to Hoke’s passion for their program and its traditions.
Hoke never seemed to believe he was taking over a team that had diminished in stature, even if it had been a little thin on wins lately.
He made that clear when asked whether, with a Sugar Bowl triumph, Michigan would “be back,” as a national power
“I don’t think Michigan ever left,” Hoke said. “There was some — maybe a lean year or two. But Michigan was always Michigan — and will be.”
The Wolverines have been tough to beat again this season. Dual threat quarterback Denard Robinson has been a constant big-play threat even as his role has been scaled back by design since Hoke arrived. He has a 1,000-yard running back helping out in Fitzgerald Toussaint. The Wolverines’ defense has improved under coordinator Greg Mattison returned to the Wolverines from the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
They’ve played 10 other bowl teams this season, so no one is accusing Michigan of playing a soft schedule.
The same cannot be said for Virginia Tech, which opened the season with victories over Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall before being pounded by Clemson, which crushed the Hokies a second time in the ACC title game.
The second loss to Clemson left many questioning whether the Hokies deserved to be in a BCS bowl at all, and Virginia Tech players and coaches arrived in New Orleans talking about redemption and validation.
“Every last game leaves an impression on you,” Beamer began, adding that the Hokies’ previous game “is not a very good impression of who we are.”
Senior wide receiver Danny Coale, who has been a reliable target imposing first-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas, called the loss to Clemson “embarrassing.”
“You never want to go out in a game like that,” Coale said. “So coming into this one, we want to play better.”