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History with Sugar Bowl leads to Virginia Tech's BCS at-large bid and game against Michigan

When

Virginia Tech

defeated Texas in the 1995

Sugar Bowl

,

Frank Beamer

cautioned Hokies faithful not to expect similar success every year.

"I think we've got a chance to be a top program year in and year out," he said. "But every year certainly isn't going to be like this."

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Well, how about every other year, Coach?

For the eighth time in 17 years, Virginia Tech is bound for a marquee postseason destination. But this one is oh-so-different.

It is unexpected, makes

ACC

history, helps rival

Virginia

and comes less than 24 hours after the Hokies' worst performance of the season.

When

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Clemson
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throttled Tech 38-10 in Saturday's ACC championship game, the Hokies (11-2) seemed destined for the Chick-fil-A Bowl on

New Year's Eve

in Atlanta. An at-large

Bowl Championship Series

invite?

Yes,

Houston

's loss in the

Conference USA

championship game helped Tech's cause. And yes, perhaps Texas Christian wouldn't place high enough in the BCS standings to earn an automatic bid.

Still, after a 28-point defeat, the Hokies' chances were discounted by most.

But bowl selections never have hinged solely on performance. They're about relationships, reputations and fannies in the seats.

And there the Sugar Bowl and Virginia Tech have a history. Hence, the New Orleans-based game bypassed higher-ranked Boise State and Kansas State and chose the Hokies to play

Michigan

on Jan. 3.

Virginia Tech has been on the flip side. In 2000, the 10-1 Hokies, runner-up to

Miami

in the

Big East

, were fifth in the BCS standings but relegated to the

Gator Bowl

when the

Fiesta Bowl

took No. 11

Notre Dame

instead.

When the news of Tech's Sugar Bowl invite leaked early Sunday evening, national media immediately carped about Tech's credentials. But while Boise State and Kansas State, Nos. 7 and 8 in the BCS standings, finished ahead of the No. 11 Hokies, they could not match Tech's fan base and nearly two decades of national prominence.

During a teleconference, I asked Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan how important the Hokies' loyal fans were to the game's decision.

"Extremely important," he said.

Welcome to the twisted world of postseason football at the highest levels.

Also invaluable to Tech: Beamer's iconic status and the Hokies' three previous Sugar Bowl appearances: the Texas victory, a loss to

Florida State

in the 1999 national title game and a defeat to undefeated

Auburn

in the 2004 season.

On each occasion, Tech performed, and traveled, well.

"I think Virginia Tech has proven over the years the caliber of football team that they are," Hoolahan said when

Sports Illustrated

's Stewart Mandel asked about the Hokies' tame schedule.

Also, Hoolahan described Beamer as "a very good friend throughout the years."

"I think Virginia Tech over the years has built a name for itself," Beamer said. "I think there's a lot of reasons Virginia Tech would be attractive to a BCS bowl."

So rather than play 7-5 Auburn in a Chick-fil-A Bowl that would have offered them little incentive, the Hokies encounter 10-2 Michigan on a far grander stage.

Under first-year coach Brady Hoke, the Wolverines and quarterback Denard Robinson finished second in the

Big Ten

Legends Division, defeating

Nebraska

and

Notre Dame

and stumbling only against

Michigan State

and

Iowa

.

The Hokies have future games scheduled with

Ohio State

and

Wisconsin

, but the Sugar Bowl will mark their first encounter with the Big Ten since a 1993

Independence Bowl

victory over

Indiana

.

Unlike Auburn,

Southeastern Conference

pedigree and last season's national title notwithstanding, Michigan gives Virginia Tech an opportunity to prove wrong those who doubt its top-15 chops.

"The people we've been able to beat, they didn't seem weak to me," Beamer said of the Hokies' schedule.

Moreover, the Wolverines and the Sugar Bowl provide Tech a better opponent and venue than had the Hokies beaten Clemson on Saturday and headed to the

Orange Bowl

opposite

West Virginia

.

Winning by losing. Sort of.

In choosing Tech, and providing the ACC $6 million for the conference's first at-large bid, the Sugar Bowl elevated Virginia (8-4) from a

Music City Bowl

date in Nashville, Tenn., against 6-6

Mississippi State

to the Chick-fil-A.

The Cavaliers are 2-1 in the Chick-fil-A and made their bowl debut there, defeating

Purdue

in 1984.

Like Tech, Virginia hopes to rebound from its nadir, a 38-0 home loss to the Hokies in the regular-season finale.

"It's a great opportunity for a young team," Cavaliers coach

Mike London

said.

"It's been an exciting day here at Virginia Tech," Beamer said.

Hoke summarized the day well when asked whether he was surprised to learn his Michigan squad was playing Virginia Tech.

"If I tried to figure it all out," he said, "I'd get a headache."



David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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