by Greg Davis - 12/26/2005
It's safe to say there are probably other locations Virginia Tech would have preferred to play their bowl game besides Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium, the site of their most devastating, if not costliest loss of the season.
Entering the first-ever ACC Championship game as a two-touchdown favorite, the Hokies (10-2, 7-1) did nothing offensively for three quarters before eventually losing a 27-22 decision to unranked Florida State. That loss cost them a chance at a $14-17 million BCS bowl payday. They will instead receive $1.6 million to play Louisville.
While Frank Beamer has lifted the Virginia Tech program to national prominence, Bobby Petrino is trying to do the same for Louisville. The Cardinals (9-2, 5-2) appear to be headed in that direction with this their eighth consecutive bowl game appearance.
In what should be an excellent matchup of top 15 teams, this year's Gator Bowl is scheduled for Jan. 2, 12:30 p.m. EST and will be televised by NBC.
As great as Virginia Tech's defense is - they are ranked first in total defense and third in fewest points allowed per game (12) -- the best defensive player on the field will be Louisville's Elvis Dumervil. The senior defensive end won the Nagurski Trophy, an award given to the nation's best defensive player. Dumervil led the country with 20 sacks and 10 forced fumbles, and was third in the nation with 22 tackles for loss.
He and the rest of the Louisville defense will have the unenviable task of trying to contain Marcus Vick. The junior quarterback leads a very balanced offensive attack that led the ACC in scoring at nearly 34 points per game.
The Hokies feature a very solid ground game led by senior Cedric Humes. Despite breaking a bone in his arm midway through the season, Humes finished with 639 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. They will, however, be without the services of senior running back Mike Imoh, who had surgery on his left ankle Dec. 19. That loss will hurt the Hokies depth but will also open the door for redshirt freshman Brandon Ore (591 yards, 6 TD's) to get more touches.
Vick has performed admirably given the pressure of the never ending comparisons to older brother Michael, completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,190 yards and 15 touchdowns, while rushing for six more.
Tech's top ranked defense will have to contend with one of the top passing offenses in the country in Louisville. Statistically, the Cardinals come into the contest ranked No. 1 in passing efficiency and third in scoring with over 45 points per game. Only Southern Cal and Texas put up more points this year. But 10 out of 11 games were started by Big East Offensive Player of the Year, sophomore quarterback Brian Brohm. Unfortunately, Brohm was lost for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in a 41-17 win over Syracuse.
The Cardinals will have to rely on walk-on redshirt freshman Hunter Cantwell, who started the season finale against Connecticut going 16-of-25 for 271 yards with a touchdown and an interception. How heavily they rely on him will depend a lot on how well they are able to run the ball. Enter Michael Bush. Bush led the nation in touchdowns with 24 and led the Big East in rushing yards with 1,049 despite missing two games.
At some point both of these teams will likely look back at their season and wonder what might have been. Virginia Tech was on the proverbial 'outside looking in' as the No. 3 ranked BCS team when they were destroyed at home by Miami, 27-7. Then, with a chance at redemption came the Florida State loss.
Louisville lost an agonizing triple-overtime thriller at West Virginia, 46-44, after blowing a 24-7 fourth quarter lead. The Mountaineers, due in large part to that win, will represent the Big East Conference in the Sugar Bowl. Prior to that, the Cardinals were thoroughly outplayed and embarrassed at South Florida, 45-14 in a game they were favored by 21 points.
If not for a couple of breaks here or there this could easily be a BCS matchup. The two teams have met six times previously with the Hokies holding a 4-2 advantage. This will be the first meeting since 1992.
Virginia Tech will be making their 5th trip to the Gator Bowl. Their last appearance was in 2002, losing to Florida State 30-17. This will be the first Gator Bowl appearance for Louisville.
Oddsmakers have made Virginia Tech a 7½-point favorite.