The winner of Saturday's Virginia-Virginia Tech showdown in Charlottesville advances to the Dec. 3 ACC championship game against Clemson. After rising from eighth to fifth in the BCS standings this week, Virginia Tech could have a shot at playing for the national title if enough breaks fall its way.
"We talk about what's possible," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said, "but I think what's really important is that you really concentrate on what you can control. And the only thing we can control right now as far as the BCS and anything else goes is how we prepare for Virginia."
Written off as a national title contender after its 23-3 home loss to Clemson on Oct. 1, Virginia Tech (10-1, 6-1 ACC) has won six consecutive games since that setback. Virginia Tech moved up three spots in the BCS standings after Oregon, Oklahoma and Clemson lost a week ago.
Is it unlikely? Sure. But even the remote possibility of Virginia Tech competing for a national title shows how far the Hokies have come since that disastrous loss to Clemson.
"In college football, anything can happen any week," senior offensive tackle Blake DeChristopher said. "We came together as a team after the Clemson loss. We just play one game at a time and control what we can control."
Virginia Tech can't afford to worry about the results of any other games. The Hokies already have a tough task trying to win on the road against red-hot Virginia (8-3, 5-2).
Although Virginia Tech has beaten Virginia seven consecutive times, the Cavaliers rarely have come into this game on such a roll. Virginia has won four in a row.
Virginia kept its Coastal Division title hopes alive last week with a 14-13 victory at Florida State, which improved the Cavaliers' record to 4-0 in games decided by four or fewer points. All those close results have given the Cavaliers the confidence they can handle any challenge that comes their way.
"This game really kind of put it into perspective that we are in every game," Virginia coach Mike London said. "We should be in every game we play. We should expect to win every game we play. It hasn't always been like that, but that's the mindset now.
"We're very aware of the challenge that faces us on Saturday, for sure."
Beamer has noticed the difference in his in-state rival.
"They're a good football team," said Beamer, who is seeking his fourth ACC title in the past five seasons. "They're for real. They're good, and they're playing really well and playing with a lot of confidence, as they should."
This game features two of the ACC's top three rushing attacks, but it likely will come down to which first-year starting quarterback performs better.
Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas struggled in that loss to Clemson, but he has played well since. During Virginia Tech's six-game winning streak, Thomas has thrown for 12 touchdowns and has rushed for eight more scores while being intercepted only twice.
Virginia sophomore Michael Rocco has emerged as one of the conference's biggest surprises. Rocco has thrown seven touchdown passes and only one interception during the Cavaliers' four-game winning streak.
Whichever quarterback can keep his team's streak alive gets a ticket to Charlotte.
And if the Hokies make it to Charlotte and avenge their loss to Clemson, a trip to New Orleans seems to be a possibility.
Best matchup: Virginia Tech TB David Wilson vs. Virginia run defense. Wilson leads the ACC with 1,442 rushing yards, though his string of seven consecutive games with at least 120 yards ended last week when North Carolina limited him to 82 yards on 21 carries. He will be working Saturday against a veteran Virginia defensive line that has helped the Cavaliers rank 28th nationally in run defense. Virginia is allowing 123.4 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. North Carolina's Gio Bernard and Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington are the only individuals to rush for at least 100 yards against Virginia this season. The Cavaliers did allow Florida State to run for 186 yards on only 33 carries last week. Wilson ran 13 times for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 37-7 rout of Virginia last season. Virginia will have a tough time winning this game if Wilson runs for 100 yards.
Player on the spot: Clemson QB Tajh Boyd. Just a few weeks ago, the only questions about Boyd focused on whether he would beat out teammate Sammy Watkins for the ACC player of the year award. But he hasn't been nearly as effective lately. After throwing 24 touchdown passes and three interceptions during Clemson's 8-0 start, Boyd has tossed six interceptions and three touchdown passes as the Tigers have dropped two of their past three games. Boyd threw two interceptions without a touchdown pass in Saturday's 37-13 loss to N.C. State. Clemson won't have much success against South Carolina this week or in the ACC championship game next week unless Boyd recaptures his early-season form.
Keep an eye on: N.C. State CB David Amerson. Amerson, a sophomore, has picked off a pass in three consecutive games and now has 11 interceptions, four more than any other player in the country. Amerson, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award that goes to the nation's top defensive back, actually has more interceptions than 66 of the 120 FBS teams. Amerson's 11th interception allowed him to tie North Carolina's Dre' Bly (1996) for the ACC single-season record. A big finish could allow Amerson to threaten the 43-year-old FBS record, though he'd have a better shot if N.C. State beat Maryland this week and earned a bowl bid. The FBS record is owned by Al Worley, who recorded 14 interceptions for Washington in 1968.
Numbers game: Duke WRs Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon could reach the 200-catch mark for their careers Saturday at North Carolina. Varner has 199 receptions, while Vernon has 196. The only players in ACC history with at least 200 career catches are Clemson's Aaron Kelly (232 from 2005-08), Wake Forest's Desmond Clark (216 from 1995-98), Virginia's Billy McMullen (210 from 1999-2002), Florida State's Peter Warrick (207 from 1996-99) and N.C. State's Jerrico Cotchery (200 from 2000-03).
Quotes of the week
"I think it's the fact that some of our players started the season with the intent that they were battling for their jobs. I think it was an 'us-against-the-world' mentality. I think through the [first] eight games you saw their confidence level grow and everyone in the country was telling them how great they are and sign this and sign that. We as coaches have to keep them back and keep them grounded. I think through all that, some of the guys maybe lost some of that edge. We have to get that back. This is a week that will pull this group together." - Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, to TigerIllustrated.com
"My heart just dropped. All of the seniors put their heads down like they [were] about to cry. Everybody just had a sour feeling inside." - Miami freshman CB Thomas Finnie, to The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post discussing the players' reaction to the news that Miami wouldn't accept a bowl bid this season in response to an NCAA investigation
"Very seldom in life do you get a second chance, but they've earned a second chance. They've given themselves a second chance. If they're going to touch the hot stove and burn themselves again, it's their deal. We're in a playoff right now. Either win or you go home." - N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien, to the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal. N.C. State kept its postseason hopes alive by beating Clemson last week and must defeat Maryland on Saturday to become bowl-eligible. The Wolfpack followed up their last win by losing to Boston College
"Since I was about 8 years old, [getting drafted has] been my goal. A lot of people ask me if my mom and dad will be upset if I don't get my degree. All I tell them is my parents want me to be successful. I look at it like you get a degree to be able to get a good job, go to work and make money. If you can get a good job already without getting a degree, why wouldn't you do it? I mean, I'd almost be more upset if I got my degree and then had to go get a job. I feel like if I do the things I want to do this season, everything else will take care of itself. Right now, all I want to do is help this team get more wins. That's the most important thing." - Virginia Tech junior TB David Wilson, to the (Newport News) Daily Press about the possibility of leaving school early to turn pro. Wilson indicated to the newspaper that he likely would enter the draft if he's projected to get taken in the first two rounds
"Personally, I think the conference thing is way overblown. How are you going to evaluate? Are you looking at the top two teams in the conference, or are you going to take the conference as a whole? There's four SEC-ACC games Saturday. Let's see what happens. Who's favored in the Clemson-South Carolina game? Who's favored in the Florida-Florida State game? Wake-Vandy? I don't know. But you see what I mean? Now, if we're just talking about Alabama and LSU, that's different." - Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, discussing the perception of SEC superiority and ACC inferiority to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Anybody who calls into a radio show and barks is either retarded or doesn't have a life." - Johnson, after an apparent Georgia fan called into his radio show and barked. Johnson later apologized through a school spokesman and said he didn't intend to offend anyone
Poll watch: Virginia Tech has moved ahead of Clemson to become the top ACC team in the BCS standings. The Hokies are fifth overall, up three spots from last week. Clemson tumbled all the way from seventh to 17th after falling to N.C. State. Georgia Tech entered the BCS rankings at No. 23 this week. Florida State, which was 25th last week, fell out after its 14-13 loss to Virginia.
Etc.: Boston College junior LB Luke Kuechly became the ACC's leading career tackler last week, as his 14 stops against Notre Dame gave him a total of 523. Kuechly broke the record formerly held by Bubba Brown, who made 515 tackles for Clemson from 1976-79. … Clemson WR Sammy Watkins is expected to play against South Carolina this week after sitting out the N.C. State game with a shoulder injury. … Florida State K Dustin Hopkins was selected as one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award given annually to the nation's top kicker. The other finalists are Texas A&M's Randy Bullock and Florida's Caleb Sturgis. … Duke WR Donovan Varner is attempting to become the first ACC player to catch at least 60 passes in three seasons. Varner heads into his final game of the 2011 season with 53 catches. Varner had 65 receptions in 2009 and 60 in 2010. … Georgia Tech has seven touchdown drives of at least 90 yards this season, the most of any FBS team. … Georgia Tech RB Orwin Smith is expected to play Saturday against Georgia after missing one game with a case of turf toe. … Maryland has given up at least 500 yards four times in its past six games. Maryland allowed at least 500 yards a total of four times in the 10-year coaching tenure of Ralph Friedgen, who was fired at the end of the 2010 regular season. … Miami RB Lamar Miller told The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post he would consider leaving school early if he knew would get drafted in the first round. Miller, a third-year sophomore, is rated as the No. 23 pick in the latest 2012 mock draft by Rob Rang, a senior draft analyst for nfldraftscout.com. Miami WR Tommy Streeter and G/T Brandon Washington have indicated they'll be back next season. … Miami OT Seantrel Henderson injured his right knee last week against USF. The injury won't require surgery, but it will prevent him from playing against Boston College this week. … North Carolina apparently has no plans to follow the lead of Miami by turning down a bowl invitation as the NCAA investigates its program. "As far as I'm concerned, it hasn't been discussed," UNC interim coach Everett Withers told the (Raleigh) News & Observer. … History indicates we should expect a close game when N.C. State faces Maryland this week. Maryland leads the all-time series by a razor-thin margin of 32-31-4, and 10 of the past 11 games in this series have been decided by 10 or fewer points. … Virginia is the first team to have road wins over Florida State and Miami in the same season. … Virginia Tech will try to win its 13th consecutive road game Saturday at Virginia. The Hokies have the longest road win streak of any FBS team. … Wake Forest's Chris Givens and Michael Campanaro have combined for 127 catches this season. The highest combined total by a Wake Forest duo in the same season came in 2007, when Kenny Moore and Josh Adams teamed up for 132 receptions.