Virginia Tech is among two ACC football programs to win a bowl in each of the last three seasons. Virginia is the lone school from the league not to have hoisted a bowl trophy since 2005.
That contrast helps frame the stakes Thursday as the rivals play in postseason on the same day for the first time, the Cavaliers versus Navy in the Military Bowl, the Hokies against Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl.
Virginia (6-6) is hunting its first winning season since 2011 and its first postseason success since a Music City Bowl conquest of Minnesota a dozen years ago.
Virginia Tech (9-3) is hoping to extend its school-record bowl winning streak to four and join the select group of programs nationally that have won at least 10 games this season and last.
“Obviously we’re just trying to go 1-0,” fifth-year Cavaliers receiver Andre Levrone said. “That’s the simple answer. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot more to it. A lot of work has been put in, and not just this season, with the building blocks that Coach Mendenhall has put in, and a lot of guys that are still here, the work they’ve put in for five years now.
“It would definitely be a very rewarding thing to go out with a winning record and to bring a bowl win back to Charlottesville and have something from a legacy standpoint to come back to the McCue Center and see hanging on the walls, an achievement.”
Like Bronco Mendenhall at U.Va., Justin Fuente is concluding his second year as the Hokies’ big whistle. Tech reached the ACC title game and finished 10-4 in his debut season.
“Not many teams have won 10 games two years in a row,” Tech freshman receiver Eric Kumah said, “and we have the opportunity to do that, and especially under Coach Fuente, to have his first two seasons with 10 wins would look really good on his resume, too.”
Eight Power Five programs boast at least 10 victories in 2016 and ’17: Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Washington and Southern California. The Virginia Tech-Oklahoma State winner will join the group, as would Stanford with an Alamo Bowl win Thursday over TCU.
Another benchmark for the Hokies: The only Power Five programs to win a bowl in the 2014, ’15 and ’16 seasons were Virginia Tech, Clemson, Utah, Stanford, Georgia and Wisconsin.
Dabo Swinney’s Clemson program owns the nation’s longest active streak, five consecutive years with a postseason victory. Florida State set the ACC standard of six from 2008-13, the first two under Bobby Bowden, the latter four under Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles won an unrivaled 11 straight postseason games from 1985-95 but were independents during the first seven years of that run.
Granted, college football is the most mercurial of postseasons. With so much time between the regular season and bowls, and with only four teams competing for the national championship — the number was less prior to the College Football Playoff’s 2014 advent — motivation can wane.
Still, the programs, players and coaches associated with the aforementioned bowl streaks speak to the level of achievement.
Virginia’s best postseason stretch came on Al Groh’s watch. His Cavaliers won the 2002 and ’03 Continental Tire Bowls over West Virginia and Pittsburgh, respectively, and dropped the 2004 MPC Computers Bowl to Fresno State in overtime before defeating Minnesota to cap the next season in Nashville.
Every ACC program except Virginia has won at least one bowl in the last five years, and the Cavaliers’ postseason victory drought of 12 years is the third-longest among the 65 Power Five schools. Colorado’s last bowl victory was in 2004, Indiana’s in 1991.
More contrasting than Virginia and Virginia Tech’s recent bowl history: their opponents Thursday. Oklahoma State leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing offense; Navy ranks second in rushing offense.
The highest-ranked team (Associated Press poll) the Hokies have beaten in Fuente’s brief tenure is No. 17 North Carolina, last season on the road. A victory over the No. 17 Cowboys (9-3) would be far more impressive, and not simply because of their prolific (46.3 points per game) offense.
Tech will be without at least four injured starters in left offensive tackle Yosuah Nijman, receiver Cam Phillips, defensive end Vinny Mihota and safety Terrell Edmunds. Moreover, the team’s leading rusher, Travon McMillian, has left the program to transfer.
Stout as the defense has been, it’s difficult to imagine Tech, which averaged 17.2 points in the final five games of the regular season, scoring enough to win.
Virginia’s prospects against Navy (6-6) are better. Courtesy of Georgia Tech, the Cavaliers are accustomed to defending the option, and this is the first Midshipmen squad not to win at least seven regular-season games since 2011.
“I would prefer to play a team that passes every down,” Virginia linebacker Chris Peace said, “but hey, I’ll take anything. This is our first bowl game. I’m just excited for the new experience.”
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