Virginia is on the brink of ACC football history. All the Cavaliers need do is beat their decade-long, why-did-we-let-these-guys-in-our-conference nemesis.
Scale that wall Saturday and Virginia becomes the first ACC program to improve its league record by five games from the previous season. Scale that wall and the Cavaliers advance to their first conference championship game.
That wall has been more challenging than Marine boot camp.
Virginia Tech is 7-0 against Virginia since joining the ACC in 2004, membership made possible only by the Cavaliers' support. Dating to their Big East days, the Hokies have won 11 of the last 12 in the series.
"As fifth-year seniors," receiver Kris Burd said Monday, "we talk a lot amongst ourselves about the legacy we want to leave behind, being the class that turned the U.Va. football program around. … We have a lot of big wins this season, but this game is the (one) that really counts."
Indeed, the Cavaliers (8-3, 5-2 ACC) have progressed remarkably from last season (4-8, 1-7). They are the first ACC team to win at Florida State and Miami in the same year, and they enter Saturday's game at Scott Stadium ranked 24th nationally by the Associated Press.
"It's great to know that in November we're still talking about Virginia football as being relevant," second-year coach Mike London said. Virginia Tech has "been on that side of the ledger for a long time, and this is new, uncharted territory for us."
The Hokies (10-1, 6-1) are ranked sixth by AP and have won at least 10 games each of the last eight seasons. Extend their mastery of the Cavaliers and they advance to the ACC title contest for the fifth time in seven years.
Winner take all. Virginia's first home sellout of the season.
"I've been thinking about this game for a long time," defensive end Jake Snyder said.
The Cavaliers raised the ante with last week's 14-13 victory at Florida State. Otherwise, the Hokies would have clinched the Coastal Division.
The Seminoles helped Virginia with brain-cramp clock management and 11 penalties, but the Cavaliers absolutely deserved to win. In a stadium where they'd never won, against an opponent riding a five-game winning streak, they were disciplined and clutch.
"You could look in everybody's eyes and tell the time was now," Burd said of Virginia's game-winning, 75-yard touchdown drive in the waning moments.
No play symbolized the Cavaliers' imperfect-but-exceptional season more than cornerback Chase Minnifield's lunging, third-quarter tackle of receiver Bert Reed at Virginia's 1-yard line.
Thanks to a coverage breakdown, Reed appeared headed for a 69-yard touchdown reception that would have put the Cavaliers in a 17-7 hole. But Minnifield chased him down, setting up a goal-line stand that forced Florida State to settle for a field goal.
"That probably was the (season's) single most-important play," London said, "thus far."
London is the leading candidate for ACC coach of the year — Al Groh, his predecessor won in his second year — and the flavor of the month. ESPN's "College GameDay" profiled him Saturday — the network's "re-enactment" of the peril London encountered as a Richmond detective was beyond gratuitous — and endorsed him as a candidate for Penn State's vacancy.
"Sometimes as a person and a team," London said, "you have to draw a line in the sand a little bit and say this is what we've got to do to get better. … I don't have a magic wand. I'm not a guru or any of that stuff.
"It's been a really neat season just to watch the growth and development and maturation process of a lot of these guys. This is why you coach."
Among London's primary challenges is challenging Virginia Tech. Not short-term. Long-term.
"We are in every game that we play," he said. "We should be in every game that we play. We should expect to win every game that we play. It hasn't always been like that … but that's the mindset now."
"We don't forget," Burd said of Tech's in-state domination. "They've had our number the last few years. … We feel this year is the year to get them."
And if the Cavaliers "get" the Hokies?
"It would be something that would be remembered," Burd said, "and be an echoing part of history."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun