Fauber: Hokies in thick of Coastal race

By Brad Fauber

It was tough to imagine Virginia Tech competing for the Coastal Division crown in the Atlantic Coast Conference prior to the kickoff of the 2013 college football season.

The disappointing outcome of last year left me little hope for a return to the top rungs of the ACC ladder this season. After all, this year’s version of the Hokies looked eerily similar to the team that struggled to a 7-6 finish last season, didn’t it? Virginia Tech was supposed to have a great defense, but outside of quarterback Logan Thomas, the Hokies lacked much in the way of confidence-inspiring talent on offense.

But suddenly here we are six weeks into the season, and things somehow seem not so bleak for the Hokies. In fact, outside of a miraculous upset of top-ranked Alabama in Week 1, Virginia Tech fans couldn’t have asked for a better start.

The Hokies have reeled off five straight victories since that 35-10 loss to the Crimson Tide to open the season, and Virginia Tech is back in the familiar confines of the top 25 for the first time since last season’s dreadful loss to Pittsburgh in Week 3. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Virginia Tech has found ways to win.

In a bit of irony, Virginia Tech’s first game back in the top 25 this weekend comes against … yes, Pittsburgh.

Normally, games like the one the Hokies will play today worry me, and the Panthers have been a tough out for Virginia Tech over the last few meetings, as Pittsburgh has won the last four (prior to last season, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech hadn’t met since the 2003 season).

But this Hokie team seems a little different to me. One of the positives that came out of last year’s mediocre season was that it served as a sort of wake-up call for a program that had become accustomed to winning 10 games a year. The Hokies have something to prove this season. They aren’t exactly loaded with talent, and they can’t afford to overlook any team on their schedule. I think the team realizes this.

Should Virginia Tech take care of business against Pittsburgh today, which I believe they will, the Hokies will be in a great position to push for the Coastal Division championship and make a return trip to Charlotte, N.C., for the ACC Championship game.

Keep in mind that the Hokies have already knocked off two important rivals in the Coastal Division in Georgia Tech and North Carolina, giving the Hokies the head-to-head advantage against both schools. The Yellow Jackets and the Tar Heels have also lost twice in conference play already, which is a bonus.

A Hokies win over Pittsburgh today would give the Panthers their second loss in the conference as well, and if Maryland can beat Virginia today, that leaves Virginia Tech and Miami as the only two schools in the division with fewer than two ACC losses.

It’s far too early to be looking ahead to that Nov. 9 meeting between the Hokies and ‘Canes in Miami, but that matchup could be the unofficial Coastal Division championship that decides who travels to Charlotte in early December.

The point is that Virginia Tech controls its own destiny. That’s a phrase that is used over and over again in sports, but its importance cannot be overstated. All Virginia Tech needs to do is win — an achievement much easier said than done, yes, but something that certainly now seems attainable for the Hokies given their fairly soft conference schedule.

I came into the college football season with no expectations, but that changed after the Hokies claimed two big conference victories the last two weeks. I may just be setting myself up for more disappointment, but I’m starting to have a different outlook on Virginia Tech’s 2013 season.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD