Virginia Tech hasn't played the softest schedule among college football's top 15. That distinction belongs to Wisconsin.
In fact, with two September road games, Tech belongs to a slim minority of power conference teams.
That said, even Diamond Hokies would concede that Tech's early path — Appalachian State, at East Carolina, Arkansas State and at Marshall — was less than inspiring.
Conversely, Clemson has conquered defending national champion Auburn and preseason ACC favorite Florida State the last two weeks, making Saturday's Lane Stadium collision between the 13th-ranked Tigers and 11th-ranked Hokies all the more intriguing.
Is Tech prepared for the upgrade in competition? How will Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, a Phoebus High graduate, react in his first college road start?
Can the Tigers become the first ACC team ever to defeat top-25 opponents in three successive games? And speaking of the top-25, why isn't Clemson ranked ahead of Tech?
Are the Hokies' top-10 national ratings in all major defensive categories a product of exponential improvement from last season or this season's schedule? Can David Wilson and Josh Oglesby run well enough for Tech to control the clock and keep the Tigers' spread offense pinned to the bench?
Some observations and hunches:
•Preparation is the least of the Hokies' concerns. First, many of their starters faced Boise State, Florida State and Stanford last season. Second, having defended ECU's spread will serve them well Saturday.
"Well, my whole position is that we have done things well in all areas really," Tech coach Frank Beamer said during a teleconference. "We have had moments where we have done things well but we just haven't done (them) consistently well."
•The Hokies will score at least 24 points. If Troy and Wofford can gain a combined 822 yards against Clemson, offense shouldn't be Tech's issue.
"Defensively, we have to stop the run," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. "That's where it starts. If they have a good night running, it's going to be a long night for us."
•Tech nickel back Cris Hill, who defended so well at ECU, needs to do the same Saturday.
•For all the hype surrounding Boyd and freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, the Hokies can't doze on tight end Dwayne Allen. He's an NFL prototype at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, and he's averaging 15.4 yards per catch with three touchdown grabs.
•In 1999, an untested Tech team whipped Clemson 31-11 at Lane. The star that Thursday night was Hokies defensive end Corey Moore, and Tech needs a similar performance Saturday from end James Gayle of Bethel High. He's the Hokies' most dynamic pass rusher, and pressuring/rattling Boyd is paramount for Tech.
•Those who claim 2011 is a typically tame Hokies' non-conference schedule ignore the facts. Since joining the ACC in 2004, Tech has played Southern California, West Virginia, LSU, Nebraska, Alabama and Boise State. Future series are set with Ohio State and Wisconsin, plus a 2013 opener against Alabama.
•Ah, the random symmetry of sports. Saturday is Beamer's 300th as Tech's head coach. His first was against Clemson, too.
That was 1987, when the Tigers were ACC and national forces, the Hokies struggling independents. Not surprisingly, Clemson won, 22-10.
If only these natural rivals played more often. But the Tigers reside in the ACC's Atlantic Division, the Hokies in the Coastal, and since they're not permanent crossover partners in the conference's scheduling format, they meet only twice every six years.
The sole fix would be to make them crossovers, to break up current interdivisional partnerships between Virginia Tech and Boston College, and Clemson and Georgia Tech. That's unlikely, but the Hokies certainly have more in common with the Tigers than they do with BC.
Virginia Tech and Clemson are rural land-grant institutions. They compete fiercely with their state's flagship schools, the University of Virginia and the University of South Carolina, respectively.
Most relevant to this conversation: Tech and Clemson are true southern football schools. Among their ACC brethren, only Florida State compares.
•Although the Tigers have yet to play a road game, and although their victory over Florida State came with Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel sidelined by a shoulder injury, I ranked them one spot ahead of the Hokies (12th and 13th) on my Associated Press ballot this week.
I expect that to change after Tech wins Saturday 28-24.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun