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Nations: Plenty on the line for Hokies

So, who's up for Orlando in December?

Trick question, that -- who the heck isn't? Still some sunshine down there, I hear, Mickey Mouse and the crew should still be getting the last of their holiday groove on, the beaches are still sandy -- good times await.

Also, there's a football game scheduled for Dec. 28. It's called the Russell Athletic Bowl, and it features a team at least some of you might have an interest in -- even now. That would be Virginia Tech, the famed Hokies of .500 fabulousness. Not for long, though -- depending on how the gang from Tech fares against those Scarlet Knights from Rutgers, this little Florida trip spells the difference between a winning and a losing season. That's high drama, right there.

Of course, Virginia Tech fans might have set their sights a bit higher than a winning record this season. As traditionally fearsome as the Atlantic Coast Conference has become on the college football scene, a loyal Hokies fan might well have had a few expectations that didn't end with a trip to a forgettable bowl against a school who's biggest win this season came in escaping the Big East Conference (Big Ten football, Jersey Shore style!).

A popular preseason pick to win the Coastal Division for the sixth time in eight years since the ACC went to the divisional format in 2005, the Hokies instead finished fourth after posting yet another .500 mark (4-4) against conference rivals. Heading into sunny Florida for their date with Russell Athletic Bowl destiny, the Hokies tote their worst record in 20 years.

Junior quarterback Logan Thomas, envisioned by the more optimistic Hokies fans as perhaps the second coming of Cam Newton, instead played more like a shoddy Jim Druckenmiller imitation. Thomas wasn't terrible, as his 2,783 passing yards and 528 rushing yards attest, but he wasn't great, either, and that was the expectation coming into this season.

The same could be said for the rest of the Hokies, whose high-water mark came in the season opener with a 20-17 overtime victory against Georgia Tech. Two weeks later, Virginia Tech had risen to No. 13 in the national rankings before promptly laying a massive egg at Pittsburgh. The Hokies slipped up in a big "home" game against Cincinnati at FedEx Field as well, a place that hasn't been kind to Virginia Tech in recent years.

Then came a three-game slide -- first a blowout loss at Clemson, then another stinker on the road at Miami before that excruciating home loss to then No. 8 Florida State -- a win there would have done so much to salvage Virginia Tech's moribund season, but the Seminoles escaped with the 28-22 victory.

Virginia Tech needed to win out after that crusher to even qualify for a bowl game, and to the Hokies' credit they did (barely) by winning on the road at Boston College in overtime before dropping in-state rival Virginia for the 998th straight time (OK, ninth) to end the regular season.

So here's the payoff, one last chance to one-up the season's most superlative victory -- that's right, pick up a better win than the 41-20 beatdown of Duke (ugh) back on Oct. 13.

That bar is lower, no doubt about that. Even the best-case scenario -- pummeling Rutgers to become champions and instant Russell Athletic Bowl icons, not to mention secure a winning record -- doesn't do much to satisfy a fan base expecting much flashier accomplishments this season. Then again, the simple fact that North Carolina and Miami are both bowl ineligible this year probably raised Virginia Tech's stock more than any victory the Hokies managed on the field. So there's a bit of good fortune.

Take heart in that, then, and warm up to the idea of Orlando. Maybe it's not Miami -- home of the BCS National Championship, and the Orange Bowl for that matter -- and maybe it's not New Orleans (Sugar Bowl) or Glendale, Ariz. (Fiesta Bowl) or Arlington, Texas (Cotton Bowl). I could think of plenty of worse places to visit this bowl season, and lots of teams and the hard-core fans who follow them are planning trips there now.

A seat on the couch is more economical, and even that's not a bad view for Hokies Nation. At least when you flip on the television come Dec. 28, your team will be on there one last time with something -- something -- to play for. Something tells me U.Va. fans would be only too glad to trade places.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>


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