Battle For The ACC Title

Virginia and Virginia Tech have played 88 times since 1895. None of those games meant as much as this one will.

When the rivals meet Saturday in Charlottesville, the winner will not only take the annual Commonwealth Cup but punch a ticket to the ACC title game as winner of the conference's Coastal Division.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Virginia Tech –3.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 79% of bets for this game have been placed on Virginia Tech –3.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

Both teams come in at 9-2 (6-1 ACC), are coming off decisive wins over Miami and have defenses ranked in the nation's top 10 in points allowed. That's where the similarities end.

Eighth-ranked Virginia Tech has gone 40-10 over the last four years, winning the ACC championship in their first year in the conference in 2004 and losing in the inaugural ACC title game in 2005. The No. 16 Cavaliers, meanwhile, went 5-7 last season and haven't won the league since they shared the title in 1995.

"It's a different feeling than we've had around here in a while,'' Virginia senior defensive end Chris Long said. "We're in a place that we haven't been before.''

Long, the son of former NFL defensive end Howie Long, is a big reason for that. A finalist for the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman, he's fifth in the country with 12 sacks.

"He's a dynamic factor on almost every play in the game," said Virginia coach Al Groh, whose defense is 10th in the nation at 17.5 points allowed per game.

Long intercepted a pass to set up the winning field goal in a 22-20 victory over North Carolina, blocked a field goal in a 23-21 victory at Middle Tennessee and sacked Maryland's Chris Turner in the end zone for a safety in an 18-17 Cavaliers win.

Those three games - all on the road - are among the NCAA-record five Virginia has won by two points or fewer. Before last week's bye, however, they cruised to a 48-0 win over Miami in the Hurricanes' final game at the Orange Bowl.

The Cavaliers are the only ACC team unbeaten at home at 5-0, and have won by a 17-16 score in each of their last two games at Scott Stadium, beating Wake Forest and Connecticut. They're 7-0 at home following a bye week under Groh, and 9-1 overall since a 23-3 loss at Wyoming to open the season.

The Hokies, though, have won the Commonwealth Cup the last three years and seven of the last eight, including a 17-0 victory in Blacksburg last year.

Virginia Tech would still be in the national title hunt if not for a late comeback by Boston College on Oct. 25. The winner of this game will play 15th-ranked BC in Jacksonville on Dec. 1 for the ACC title and a trip to the Orange Bowl.

The Hokies are coming off last week's 44-14 win over Miami in which junior Branden Ore returned to his 2006 form, rushing for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Ore has battled conditioning problems and injuries all season, but is getting stronger at the right time after an 1,137-yard, 16-touchdown season in 2006.

"He's getting healthy,'' defensive end Chris Ellis said. "I don't look for him to hit the 100-yard mark; I look for him to hit the 200-yard mark because I know he has that in him. I just want him to finish strong for us so we can lean on him."

Virginia Tech's quarterback situation is somewhat less clear. Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor have been sharing snaps, and though Taylor pulled a muscle in his side against Miami, he should be ready to play against Virginia.

Glennon beat Virginia last year, but the more mobile freshman Taylor could be employed Saturday in hopes of avoiding the Long-led pass rush. Even with multiple quarterback changes, the Hokies have put up 40 or more points each of the last two games and four of six.

"We're at an all-time high in confidence level going into the biggest game of the season and one of the biggest games in this rivalry,'' said Glennon, who threw for 171 yards and a touchdown last week. "We picked the right time to start clicking.''

The Hokies' defense - fourth in the nation at 14.9 points allowed per game - did, too, after getting its own top player back last week in Vince Hall. The linebacker missed four games with a broken forearm and wrist, but had a team-high 13 tackles against Miami and is still the Hokies' second-leading tackler.

Hall led Virginia Tech with 12 tackles in last year's shutout of the Cavaliers, during which Virginia managed just 112 total yards behind then-freshman quarterback Jameel Sewell.

Hall will be chasing a pair of sophomores in Sewell and running back Mikell Simpson. Sewell was 20-of-25 for 288 yards and a touchdown last week, while Simpson - a converted wide receiver - has 319 yards rushing and six touchdowns in four games filling in for injured starter Cedric Peerman, who's out for the year with a foot injury.

Simpson is also Virginia's second-leading receiver with 32 catches for 349 yards.

The Hokies lead the series with the Cavaliers 46-37-5.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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