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Jeff Nations: Hokies' opener gift for title shot

Let's face it -- sports writers love Virginia Tech.

It must be so, just looking at this week's Associated Press preseason top 25 football poll. The Hokies are sitting in a strong position at No. 10 -- not too high for grandiose expectations, not so low as to be out of the BCS picture. That's all well and good, but the real Hokie love shows through higher up in the poll.

Way up there on that lofty perch, just above BCS championship runner-up Texas and perennial power Florida, just below top-ranked defending champion Alabama and perennially overrated Ohio State, that's where the warm feelings for Frank Beamer and the gang center -- at No. 3, to be exact, the ranking the collected minds of college football writers nationwide have bestowed upon Boise State. The Broncos just happen to be the Hokies' season-opening opponent on Sept. 6, the type of first-game test fans and coaches dread.

Virginia Tech has some experience facing top-five competition right out of the box. Last year, the Hokies dropped a 34-24 season-opening decision to No. 5 Alabama at the Chik-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta. Two years before that, Tech got drubbed 48-7 at LSU. And in 2004, on the same FedEx Field where the Hokies will host Boise State, top-ranked Southern Cal picked up an 11-point win (24-13) over Beamer's bunch.

So more of the same? Let's take another look at that list: USC, LSU, Alabama ... Boise State? Which program would you rather face this year? Any year?

This is no time for cracking wise on the Hook-and-Ladder or Statue of Liberty -- those are legitimate plays -- old-school (like Knute Rockne old), but nothing wrong with that. Nor is it appropriate to comment at this time on end zone marriage proposals or bird-slaughtering blue turf. And absolutely, positively no potato jokes.

Boise State has earned our respect, obviously. Under the guidance of coach Chris Petersen, the Broncos have been the ever-present bogeyman threatening to steal BCS riches with their glittering record year after year now since their stunning overtime victory against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Now, it seems the bogeyman is near the front of the line to bust up the BCS status quo as the Broncos enjoy their highest-ever AP ranking.

Overrated, perhaps? This is the team that beat then-No. 16 Oregon 19-8 last year, handing the Ducks a season-opening setback on that famous blue playing field (again with the bird battering). And they did deal then-unbeaten TCU a 17-10 loss in the Fiesta Bowl to cap a 14-0 season. OK, so the rest of the schedule might not have been quite so imposing -- nothing like beefing up that WAC schedule with a pair of Mid-American Conference games and a home breather against UC Davis.

The Broncos did take care of business on the road last year in front of the rabid throngs of Fresno State, Bowling Green and Tulsa fans, but playing in front of a hostile crowd which could approach 90,000 in Landover, Md., might be something different. Virginia Tech will virtually have home-field advantage, and Boise State must deal with crossing a pair of time zones just to reach the very green FedEx playing field.

All that success surely has led to a recruiting boom in Boise, right? By now, the Broncos must be loaded with four-and five-star recruits, NFL hopefuls making the trek to the mountains to join the storied program. Let's see -- Boise State's recruiting class in 2010 according to scout.com was ... 97th? Virginia Tech was 37th. That can't be right. Rivals.com must have a better feel for this program -- the Broncos reeled in the 82nd-best class (Virginia Tech was 23rd) according to rivals.com, just below Kent State.

One-year slump, maybe? Since 2006, when the Broncos started to capture the imagination of sports writers nationwide, Boise State's best-rated recruiting class came in 2007 when scout.com picked them 57th. Virginia Tech's worst rating during that time by either website was 41st in 2009 (scout.com).

Still, Boise State must be doing something right, blue-chippers or not. Petersen is obviously maximizing his program's potential on a yearly basis. But from a physical standpoint, Virginia Tech should have the better of the matchup. This isn't like playing the Crimson Tide last season, a program consistently ranked in the top 10 in recruiting each and every year. It's not LSU or USC ... heck, it's not even Duke according to the draft rankings. Chances are, if anyone's going to get blown off the ball, outmuscled or outrun, it's going to be the No. 3 Broncos.

Opportunities don't get more golden than this. A victory over the third-ranked Broncos is bound to give the Hokies a significant bump in the top 25. Beating No. 9 Miami last year was worth five spots in the AP poll last year for Virginia Tech; a similar jump for beating Boise State would not be unthinkable.

The BCS establishment will be pulling for the Hokies, without question. Other than a home matchup on Sept. 25 against No. 24 Oregon State, the Broncos have another clear road toward an undefeated season -- unless a road matchup against state rival Idaho is a challenge (it is in Moscow, after all). So Beamer's team is in position to defend the status quo and keep the biggest BCS buster at bay once more. In doing so, the Hokies can take a huge step toward regaining the sort of national prominence they haven't enjoyed since a certain notorious fleet-footed quarterback named Vick (that's Michael, not Marcus) ran the offense.

Beat Boise State to get on the fast track for the national championship? That's no half-baked idea.


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