Annual Big East rivals from 1992-2003, Virginia Tech and Rutgers could well meet again at this season’s Russell Athletic Bowl.
Postseason bids won’t be finalized until Sunday evening, but the Dec. 28 game in Orlando, Fla., has emerged as the Hokies’ most probable destination. The Scarlet Knights became a likely opponent Thursday by losing to Louisville with the Big East’s Bowl Championship Series bid at stake.
All of the ACC’s postseason pecking order hinges on Saturday night’s conference title game between Florida State (10-2) and Georgia Tech (6-6). The Seminoles are two-touchdown favorites to earn the league’s Orange Bowl bid, perhaps opposite their future Atlantic Division rival Louisville, which accepted ACC membership Wednesday.
If Florida State wins Saturday as most (all?) anticipate, Clemson (10-2) would take the ACC’s next bowl slot, the Chick-fil-A in Atlanta, presuming the Tigers do not receive an unexpected at-large BCS invitation. Clemson to the Chick-fil-A would leave the Russell Athletic to choose among Virginia Tech (6-6), North Carolina State (7-5), Duke (6-6) and Georgia Tech (6-7).
Given its winning record, the Wolfpack appeared the leading candidate for Orlando under that scenario, until the school fired coach Tom O’Brien on Sunday. But the combination of that bad karma and the Hokies’ more recognizable brand figures to alter the equation.
Also, N.C. State has appeared in the Orlando bowl four times in the last 12 years. Virginia Tech has never played in the contest, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m., and is televised by ESPN.
The Russell Athletic Bowl has the first choice of Big East teams after the BCS, with Rutgers (9-3) and Cincinnati (8-3 entering Saturday’s date at Connecticut) the most attractive. If bowl officials select Virginia Tech, then Rutgers almost certainly will be the Big East pick to avoid a rematch of the regular season game between the Hokies and Bearcats.
Virginia Tech is 0-2 against the Big East this season, losing to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. But the Hokies dominated Rutgers during their time as conference rivals, winning 11 consecutive times after a 1992 defeat.
Tech never scored fewer than 30 points in those 12 meetings and averaged 46.6. The Hokies’ average margin of victory in their last nine games against the Scarlet Knights was 34.2 points.
In short, Rutgers football has come a long way since -- first under Greg Schiano, who left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and now with first-year head coach Kyle Flood.
Again, this is all predicated on Florida State defeating Georgia Tech on Saturday. Were the ‘Noles to pull one of their classic no-shows and/or be baffled by the Yellow Jackets’ option offense, then Georgia Tech would head to the Orange Bowl at 7-6, leaving the conference red-faced and the Chick-fil-A and Russell Athletic to sort out Clemson and Florida State.
The ACC’s next bowl pick goes to the Sun, which then could take Virginia Tech to face a Pacific 12 opponent, likely Southern California (7-5), on New Year’s Eve in El Paso, Texas.
Rutgers in Orlando or USC near the Mexican border? Might the Hokies prefer a more marquee opponent and the chance to face Trojans All-America receiver Marqise Lee and, if his injured shoulder is healed, quarterback Matt Barkley?
Preferences notwithstanding, chances are Florida State wins Saturday night and Virginia Tech accepts a Russell Athletic bid Sunday to face Rutgers.
Were the Russell Athletic to reverse course and take N.C. State, the Hokies likely would land at the Music City Bowl, Dec. 31 in Nashville, against a Southeastern Conference team such as Vanderbilt (8-4).
One final thought: Has Louisville ever had a better two days? The Cardinals gained ACC membership Wednesday and, thanks to gallant quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, rallied to defeat Rutgers 20-17 Thursday night.
Here’s an account from Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Tim Sullivan.
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