Tech ventures to SEC country for much-anticipated match-up against LSU
The Roth Report
September 3, 2007

By Bill Roth

Now here's something to really sink your teeth into.

A regular season, non-conference, intersectional game between two top-10 teams.

Virginia Tech and LSU meet Saturday night at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge in a game that players and fans from Sandy Level to Bayou Goula have been anticipating for several years.

Of course, both the Hokies and Tigers play more than their share of big games against ranked teams, but those contests usually occur within the school's conference schedules, or in bowl games.

This week, it's something different.

Saturday's game will mark just the fourth regular-season, non-conference game for the Hokies against a top-10 team since they joined the Big East in 1991. Tech faced No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 1 Florida State in 1991 and No. 1 USC in 2004.

LSU has played just two such games during the same period, and the Tigers haven't played a top-10, non-conference opponent during the regular season since a 1998 trip to No. 10 Notre Dame. Virginia Tech will be the first top-10 non-SEC team to visit Baton Rouge since 1992 when No. 7 Texas A&M played at Tiger Stadium.

Those facts aren't a degradation of the respective schools non-conference scheduling whatsoever. Both have played more than their share of games against top-10 foes, but those contests occur mostly within the framework of the ACC or SEC schedules. And they've both played plenty of top-25 non-conference foes in regular-season games. But top-10 vs. top-10? That's something exciting.

In the late 90's, football coach Frank Beamer and Director of Athletics Jim Weaver worked hard to upgrade Tech's non-conference schedule. The Hokies added Clemson for 1998 and 1999, Texas A&M for 2002 and 2003, the LSU series, plus (at the time) non-conference series with North Carolina and N.C. State, which became ACC games.

Looking back, Tech won both of those Clemson games, swept A&M, and won the first game with LSU in 2002. The Hokies, of course, play Nebraska, Syracuse, Wisconsin, and Ohio State in non-league games over the next eight seasons.

This is clearly Tech's biggest non-conference game since its 2004 opener against USC. Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and the Trojans beat the Hokies 24-13 in a game played in front of 91,665 at FedEx Field, the largest crowd to ever see Tech play. That record should fall Saturday. Tiger Stadium, the sixth biggest on-campus stadium in college football, has a listed capacity of 92,400, but the school drew 92,664 for its game with Auburn in 2005.

Intersectional games like these were common during the Hokies' pre-conference days as an independent. Virginia Tech played Alabama, Florida, and other top teams back in the 70's and 80's before television became a real player in college football, and before nearly every bowl game was aligned with a specific conference.

Now, you don't see games like this very often, which makes Saturday's game so intriguing.

Clearly, this is one of the biggest non-conference games ever for the Hokies. In fact, Saturday night's game will mark just the eighth time in Tech history that the Hokies will play a game in which both teams are ranked in the top-10 at kickoff. The others:

  • 1996: No. 10 Virginia Tech vs. No. 6 Nebraska (Orange Bowl)
  • 2000: No. 2 Virginia Tech vs. No. 3 Miami
  • 2000: No. 2 Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Florida State (Sugar Bowl/BCS Championship Game)
  • 2003: No. 10 Virginia Tech vs. No. 2 Miami
  • 2004: No. 10 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Miami
  • 2005: No. 3 Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 Miami
  • 2005: No. 9 Virginia Tech vs. No. 3 Auburn (Sugar Bowl)

Where this game ranks (or will rank) in the all-time list of non-conference, regular-season games will depend upon the outcome, but it will most likely fit into this group of the half dozen most memorable non-league games Tech has played since it joined the Big East in 1991.

1991: No. 6 Oklahoma 27, Tech 17 - The Hokies took the lead in this game when P.J. Preston recovered a fumble in the end zone. Sooners quarterback Cale Gundy had a record-setting day passing in leading the Sooners to the victory.

1991: No. 1 Florida State 33, Tech 20 - Two weeks after that Oklahoma game, the Hokies faced the Seminoles in Orlando. Again, the Hokies took the lead in this game on a Will Furrer touchdown pass. Tech also pulled off a terrific fake field goal in this game, which led to another score. But the top-ranked 'Noles and quarterback Casey Weldon were too much to handle.

1995: No. 20 Virginia Tech 36, No. 13 Virginia 29 - This was a non-conference game back then. Tech had to upset No. 13 UVa on its home field to gain a Sugar Bowl bid. Tech rallied behind quarterback Jim Druckenmiller in the fourth quarter to pull out a memorable win.

2002: No. 16 Virginia Tech 26, No. 14 LSU 8 - Tech blocked two kicks and Lee Suggs rushed for 91 yards in leading the Hokies to a win over the Tigers. Jim Davis recorded three sacks and the Hokies offense attempted just 14 passes, relying on Suggs and Kevin Jones to run the football against the Tigers.

2002: No. 7 Virginia Tech 13, No. 19 Texas A&M 3 - Tech's defense was terrific at College Station as the Hokies snapped the Aggies 29-game home field winning streak. The crowd of 83,746 at Kyle Field was the largest crowd Tech had ever played in front of in school history. The previous high had been 80,500 at Clemson in the 1998 season opener.

2004: Virginia Tech 19, No. 6 West Virginia 13 - Mike Imoh rushed for 115 yards and Vincent Fuller returned a blocked field goal 74 yards for a touchdown as the Hokies beat the Mountaineers. Again, this game falls into the 'non-conference' category as it was the Hokies' first year in the ACC.

Of course, there've been plenty other memorable non-conference games over the decades - the home win over Texas A&M during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the 37-0 win at Clemson in 1998 and the 31-11 win over the Tigers the following season in Blacksburg.

Tech was ranked No. 3 when it beat West Virginia in Morgantown in 2005. WVU was not ranked that day, but future stars Pat White and Steve Slaton showed their promise against Tech. WVU has gone 19-2 since losing that day to the Hokies. Tech won that game 34-17 over what we thought was a sensational WVU team playing on its home field. Again, WVU wasn't ranked, but probably should've been.

As for this week, Tech hasn't played a game at an SEC stadium since October of 1987, Beamer's first season in Blacksburg, when the Hokies dropped a 14-7 decision to Kentucky in Lexington. Since then, Tech has played Vanderbilt (in Blacksburg), Tennessee (in Gainesville), Alabama (in Nashville), and Auburn (in New Orleans), but hasn't played a true SEC road game in 20 years. That in itself will be fun for Tech players and those of you who have tickets for this one.

Playing games like this may not be fun for coaches. But it's a rare treat for fans on both sides. And it should be one to enjoy.

Tech-LSU tailgate details
The New Orleans-Baton Rouge Chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association is promising the "Best Tailgate outside of Blacksburg ... Ever," beginning Saturday at 2 p.m. at LSU's Carl Maddox Field House. More details are available at www.geauxhokies.com. For those of you attending the game, you can hear the ISP Sports radio feed inside Tiger Stadium at 88.9 FM.

Tech sold its allotment of 4,000 tickets to this game within hours, of course. What should Hokie fans expect?

"I've been everywhere in the South and it's a unique experience, especially at night and when the Tigers are pretty good. It's quite a place to be," said Tony Barnhart, the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Fans need to get there Thursday night. If you're not there (Thursday night), you're way behind the LSU fans. Carve out some time on Saturday to park your car and walk the grounds. The unmistakable smell of Jambalaya mixed with bourbon."

For more of Tony's thoughts on the game, hear Episode One of the Hokie Podcast on hokiesports.com.


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The Roth report appears weekly in hokiesports the newspaper and is posted for the general public on hokiesports.com.

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