After two early-season losses to teams from its former league, Virginia Tech will get one more crack at a Big East team this postseason.
The Hokies were selected to play in the Russell Athletic Bowl against one-time Big East foe Rutgers, a Dec. 28 game that will kick off at 5:30 p.m. at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
Despite an underwhelming season, Virginia Tech (6-6) got the nod as the ACC’s third choice, picked ahead of N.C. State and Georgia Tech. It’s the Hokies’ first trip to the Orlando-based bowl.
“We’re eager,” Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “I think this is a team that is eager to continue to prove our program here.”
Under first-year head coach Kyle Flood, Rutgers (9-3) shared the Big East title with Louisville, Syracuse and Cincinnati. The Cardinals got the league’s automatic Bowl Championship Series berth. The Scarlet Knights were the No. 2 pick from the conference.
Rutgers is aiming for only its third double-digit win season. The Scarlet Knights have done it mostly with defense. They’re fourth nationally in points against (14.3 ppg) and 14th in total defense (321.3 ypg).
Although they’ve never crossed paths, Flood has a high respect for Beamer.
“Most of what I know from coach Beamer is what I know of his reputation of being in the profession,” he said, “being as first-class person as there is, someone who is a tremendous teacher of the fundamentals of football.”
The Hokies are 0-2 against Big East teams this year. They were out-classed at Pittsburgh in September, a 35-17 loss in which they were out-gained 537-324. Two weeks later, they lost a 27-24 heartbreaker at FedEx Field to Cincinnati on Damon Julian’s 39-yard touchdown reception with 13 seconds to play.
The Russell Athletic Bowl matchup reunites two Big East mates who have fled — or soon will — for greener pastures in another league. Virginia Tech left for the ACC in 2004, part of the first big wave of conference realignment. Rutgers announced nearly two weeks ago that it will join the Big Ten in the 2014-15 season.
“The program has certainly grown over the years and now they’re going to the Big Ten,” Beamer said. “I think they’re a program on the move, that’s for sure.”
During their time in the Big East together from 1992-2003, the schools met 12 times. Virginia Tech won the final 11 meetings by an average margin of 29.3 points.
Rutgers last won in 1992, a 50-49 shootout. Asked if he remembered the game, Beamer chuckled.
“I’ve been trying to forget that one,” he said.
The teams’ Big East meetings preceded the Scarlet Knights’ big turnaround under Greg Schiano, who went 68-67 from 2001-11 and guided the program to six of its eight bowl appearances. Led by running back Ray Rice, the Scarlet Knights went 11-2 in 2006, getting as high as seventh in the national rankings.
When Schiano left to coach the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason, Flood took over and guided Rutgers to its first share of the Big East title this year.
The Scarlet Knights started the season 7-0 and were ranked as high as 15th. A surprising 35-23 home loss to upstart Kent State dropped them out of the polls.
They remained unbeaten in the Big East until a 27-6 loss at Pittsburgh on Nov. 24. With the league’s automatic BCS berth on the line last Thursday, Rutgers lost a tight game to Louisville 20-17 at home.
The Hokies are trying to avoid their first losing season since 1992, when they went 2-8-1. It’s Virginia Tech’s 20th straight appearance in a bowl, the third longest streak nationally behind Florida State (31) and Florida (21).