Virginia Tech accepted an invitation Sunday to play in the Sun Bowl against UCLA, the first time the Hokies will travel to El Paso, Texas, for a bowl game in nearly 67 years.
The game takes place Dec. 31 at 2 p.m. in Sun Bowl Stadium and will be televised by CBS.
“It’s great for our kids and fans to be able to visit a different part of the country,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “The Sun Bowl was our first bowl in 1947, and it’s time to get back.”
Beamer was 3 months old when the Hokies last played in El Paso, losing to Cincinnati 18-6 on a frigid, snowy day on Jan. 1, 1947, in what was the school’s first bowl appearance.
The Hokies (8-4) ended up in this year’s Sun Bowl this year after all the ACC dominoes fell pretty much as expected Sunday. Once Florida State punched its ticket to the BCS title game against Auburn, Clemson finalized its spot in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State.
The only question was who would go to Atlanta. In the end, Duke was chosen ahead of Miami for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, matched up against Texas A&M. Miami fell to the Russell Athletic Bowl, where it will face American Athletic Conference runner-up Louisville.
That left Virginia Tech to play No. 17 UCLA (9-3), the fourth selection from the Pac-12. The Bruins’ only losses this year were to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State, who all finished the season ranked in the top 20.
UCLA is led by linebacker Anthony Barr, a finalist for the Bednarik (top defensive player), Butkus (top linebacker) and Lombardi (top lineman or linebacker) awards and a possible top-five pick in next spring’s NFL draft. The 6-foot-4, 248-pound senior finished with 60 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks this season.
The Bruins have the 37th-ranked offense nationally (448.2 ypg) and the 23rd-ranked scoring offense (36.5 ppg). Dual threat sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 2,845 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran for a team-high 585 yards and nine more scores.
The Bruins also have a multi-talented freshman in Myles Jack, a linebacker and running back who won both the Pac-12’s Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. Jack had 70 tackles, five tackles for a loss and a team-high 11 passes defended in addition to running for 267 yards and seven touchdowns..
UCLA coach Jim Mora and Beamer have a connection in Michael Vick. The quarterback took Beamer and the Hokies to the BCS title game in 2000 and Mora to the NFC championship game in his first year as head coach of the Falcons in 2004.
“I knew he was a smart guy then,” Beamer said of Mora for taking Vick that deep into the playoffs.
Mora, who spent most of his career in the NFL ranks before joining UCLA two years ago, has been on Virginia Tech’s campus many times and coached former Hokies Jim Druckenmiller, Vick, DeAngelo Hall and Jimmy Williams, among others, in the pros. He’s not familiar with this year’s team yet but has respect for the man in charge.
“They have one of the finest coaches in the history of his game,” Mora said. “Coach Beamer is someone I’ve looked up to for a long, long time. Tremendous amount of respect for him.”
Virginia Tech and UCLA have never met in football. The Hokies are 0-3 all-time against teams currently in the Pac-12, losing to California 52-49 in the ’03 Insight Bowl, Southern California 24-13 in the 2004 season opener and Stanford 40-12 in the 2011 Orange Bowl.
This will be the farthest west Virginia Tech has traveled that 2003 Insight Bowl in Phoenix.
It’s the Hokies 21st straight appearance in a bowl game. With Florida failing to qualify for a bowl game, that’s now the second longest streak nationally to Florida State’s 32 years.
The Sun Bowl, which has been played annually since 1935, is tied with the Sugar and Orange as the second-oldest bowl game after the Rose Bowl. This is its fourth year it has an ACC affiliation. Miami went in 2010 and Georgia Tech in 2011 and ’12.
Virginia Tech is designated the road team in this year’s contest.
Tech has at least one connection to El Paso. First-year offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, a Garland, Texas, native, played offensive tackle at UTEP from 1987-90. Early in his career with the Miners, he played for offensive line coach Andy Reid, now the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, now the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator.
The Hokies’ coaches will be out recruiting this week and the team will reconvene for practice on Saturday.