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December 5, 2008

ACC title game has meaning for participants

Go ahead, make fun of the ACC.

Mock that the league is 1-9 in BCS bowls. Jeer the conference that hasn't produced a legit national championship contender since it expanded to 12 teams in 2004. Laugh that the ACC hasn't sent a team to the national championship game since the 2000 season.

Virginia Tech doesn't care. Neither does Boston College. The teams meet Saturday in Tampa, Fla., in the ACC title game. A bid to the BCS title game isn't on the line, but a whole lot of pride and a trip to the Orange Bowl are.

"I know we're fortunate to be in this position," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "It's been a lot of great work by our coaches and players. Sometimes we got some good luck, but it hasn't been easy. I couldn't be more proud of the program than I am now."

This rematch of last season's title game is an unlikely pairing.

While many predicted the Hokies would be here, Boston College is a party-crasher few expected back on this stage with star quarterback Matt Ryan gone.

This is a chance for Tech to reaffirm the notion that it is the king of the ACC. If the Hokies prevail, it will be their third ACC title in the past five seasons; the Hokies also would become the first team to win the ACC Championship Game twice. Plus, a victory over BC followed by a triumph in a bowl would give Virginia Tech 10 wins for a fifth consecutive season. Only Texas and USC can match that streak.

Not bad for a team that began the season with myriad questions on defense and at the skill positions on offense.

"I said many times I really like this football team the players, leadership, how they support each other and how they practice," said Beamer, whose Hokies opened the season with a loss to East Carolina. "What I didn't like was having young kids all at one position like wide receiver. That was a problem we ran into. Also, all the tailbacks were freshmen."

As with many Hokies teams of the past, the 2008 squad has thrived because of its defense, which yields just 274.5 yards per game to lead the ACC and rank No. 6 in the nation.

"I think [defensive coordinator] Bud [Foster] is probably the best in the business," said Beamer, whose offense ranks 10th in the ACC (301.3 ypg). "He's very, very good, and he knows what he's doing. He's been through battles and seen about everything. He's a smart football coach and I think he's probably the best in the business."

Perhaps the key player is cornerback Victor Harris, one of the most versatile players in the nation. In addition to being a shutdown corner, Harris also has doubled as a part-time receiver and returns punts.

"He does everything for them," said Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, whose Eagles beat Virginia Tech 28-23 in the regular season. "He makes things happen when the ball is in his hands. All the things that he can do speak for his talent. We're aware when he's in the game [on offense]. They use him really well, and they use him on decoys, too."

By the numbers
A quick look at some key stats for Boston College and Virginia Tech:
Boston CollegeVirginia Tech
TOTAL OFFENSE:319.3 ypg301.3 ypg
RUSH OFFENSE:151.2 ypg 169.4 ypg
PASS OFFENSE:168.2 ypg 131.9 ypg
SCORING OFFENSE:26.7 ppg 21.6 ppg
TOTAL DEFENSE:276.7 ypg 274.5 ypg
RUSH DEFENSE:87.3 ypg 112.2 ypg
PASS DEFENSE:189.3 ypg 162.3 ypg
SCORING DEFENSE: 17.6 ppg 17.9 ppg

Like Tech, Boston College relies on a killer defense. The Eagles rank No. 2 in the ACC and No. 8 in the nation (276.7 ypg) to compensate for an offense that is seventh in the conference (319.3 ypg). The Eagles are especially tough against the run, holding each of their past five foes to less than 100 yards rushing. The stalwarts are mammoth tackles Ron Brace and B.J. Raji. And linebacker Mark Herzlich cleans up anything the big guys miss.

A rugged front seven is a major reason the Eagles lead the nation with 25 interceptions. And BC has been opportunistic, tying for the national lead in non-offensive touchdowns with eight. With redshirt freshman quarterback Dominique Davis making just his second career start after Chris Crane was lost to a season-ending broken collarbone, BC's defense has to carry a big load against the Hokies.

"It has been very gratifying to have a team like this, not having to count on just one guy," Jagodzinski said. "Matt Ryan was a real special player, but we've come together by having to count on everybody.

"This is the best team chemistry I think I've ever been around. They count on each other, and I think that's what being a team is all about. It's not just about one guy. Everybody is taking turns making a play."

In this game, the team whose defense makes the most plays figures to win.

Expert picks

Olin Buchanan: Boston College 27, Virginia Tech 24
Tom Dienhart: Virginia Tech 21, Boston College 19
David Fox: Boston College 14, Virginia Tech 10
Mike Huguenin: Boston College 20, Virginia Tech 17
Steve Megargee: Boston College 17, Virginia Tech 14

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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