MAKE OR BREAK

They lost to Alabama and waxed Marshall. What else to expect from Virginia Tech's football team?

Alabama's defense is ruder than Kanye West, and Marshall hasn't mattered since Byron Leftwich exited in 2002. Plus, the Hokies lost their most reliable weapon, tailback Darren Evans, to a season-ending knee injury in August.

So 1-1 is precisely what sensible folks figured.


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Now we have intrigue.

Now Tech braces for back-to-back home games that might very well define its season.

That sounds daft, I know. The leaves haven't started to turn, and Mariano Rivera hasn't saved a playoff game.

But Saturday's collision with Nebraska and next week's with Miami likely will answer the age-old question: contender or pretender?

Win two and the Hokies affirm their preseason status as ACC favorites and potential top-10 material.

Stumble against Miami — the Nebraska result will dictate the vibe for that game — and Tech could face a serious slog in the conference's Coastal Division.

Here's why: Courtesy of an opening victory at Florida State, the Hurricanes are 1-0 in the ACC. Hold serve tonight at home against Georgia Tech and win in Blacksburg, and Miami is 3-0, owns tiebreakers against the Techs and has the meat of its league schedule in the rear-view mirror.

Miami is 20th and Nebraska 19th in the Associated Press poll, but these are not vintage times for either storied program.

The Hurricanes are 21-20 against ACC foes since joining the conference in 2004, which lags behind even Virginia (21-19), where coach Al Groh is gurgling in hot water and being fitted for a cement sweatshirt.

Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers have lost nine consecutive games to ranked opponents, 11 straight to top-20 outfits and haven't beaten a top-20 foe on the road since a 1997 victory at No. 2 Washington.

Naturally, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer didn't receive or ignored that memo.

"I think Nebraska is back," he proclaimed Wednesday.

Please. Even if the Cornhuskers and second-year coach Bo Pelini beat the No. 13 Hokies, we're talking about a program that hasn't won the Big 12 in a decade — longest drought in more than 40 years — and opened this season with dustings of Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State.

Last season at Nebraska, Virginia Tech scored a season-high 35 points and did not commit a turnover. Tyrod Taylor passed for a season-best 171 yards on just nine completions and ran for 87 yards as the Hokies prevailed by five against a team that finished 9-4 and ranked 80th nationally in scoring defense.

At Miami, conversely, Tech had season-lows in points and rushing yards (77) in a 16-14 loss.

Most compelling to watch Saturday will be Taylor and the fleet of receivers and running backs around him. Dyrell Roberts, Xavier Boyce, Ryan Williams and David Wilson combined for six touchdowns against Marshall, and Roberts, a sophomore, is the most experienced of the lot.

"That's great for the future," Beamer said of the young playmakers. "We're just going to have to live through some growing pains."

Williams, Wilson and friends — don't want to forget freshman punt returner Jayron Hosley — certainly won't match last week's collective performance, but can they approach it? Can Taylor build upon the first multi-touchdown passing game of his college career?

And what of Bud Foster's defense, especially if top cornerback Stephan Virgil misses a second straight game with a tender knee? Can Tech slow a Nebraska offense strangely beholden to the pass?

The Cornhuskers, whose last non-conference road win against a ranked team was 2000 at No. 23 Notre Dame, have thrown for at least 200 yards in 20 consecutive games, a mind-bending trend for those of us reared on Nebraska I-formation backs such as Jeff Kinney, Mike Rozier and I.M. Hipp.

The most important streak for Tech faithful is the Hokies' 31 straight non-conference victories at Lane Stadium, dating to a 1998 loss to Virginia. Only three of those wins were against ranked opponents, the most recent No. 6 West Virginia in 2004.

The guess here is that Tech edges Nebraska and that Beamer then declares this Miami's best team since the '72 Dolphins.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.

Saturday's game

Next up

Saturday's game

WHO: (19) Nebraska (2-0) at (13) Virginia Tech (1-1).

WHEN: 3:30 p.m.

TV: ABC 8 13.

INSIDE: Huskers running back Roy Helu Jr. expects plenty of himself. Page 2

Next up

WHO: Miami at Virginia Tech.

WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26.

TV: ABC 8 13.

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