Maybe it's geography, or perhaps memories of Virginia Tech's troubles in the 1994 Gator Bowl, but a poll of Tech fans would likely reveal an overwhelming favorite for the non-conference opponent they'd most like to see Tech's football team play.
The answer would be Tennessee — and it's going to happen again.
Tech (9-3) and Tennessee accepted invitations Sunday to play Dec. 31 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. It'll be the first meeting of the teams since freshman quarterback Peyton Manning helped lead Tennessee to a 45-23 victory in the '94 Gator Bowl.
"This is a matchup our fans were really looking forward to," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "It has the makings of a great ballgame, and we're going to do our best to hold up our end of the deal. We're excited and we're looking forward to the football game."
The Peach Bowl has sold out 12 consecutive years, and it's a foregone conclusion this will be the No. 13.
"This is going to be a hot ticket," Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said. "I don't know what the scalping laws are in Georgia, but … there will be people wanting this ticket who won't be able to get it."
There will be plenty of motivation for both teams heading in to the game, which will take place in the Georgia Dome. Tech will try to join Texas as the only programs in the nation to have at least 10 wins in each of the last six seasons. Tennessee (7-5) is looking to finish coach Lane Kiffin's first season at the Southeastern Conference school on a high note with a fifth win in its last six games of the season.
Tech will be making its second appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the last four seasons. In 2006, Georgia defeated Tech 31-24. Tennessee hasn't been to this bowl game since '04, back when it was known as the Peach Bowl, and lost 27-14 to Clemson.
A movement for a Tech-Tennessee regular-season game seemed to grow in '05 when Bruton Smith, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc., indicated he wanted to offer both schools $20 million to play a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway. Despite fans of both schools immediately latching on to the idea and lighting up message boards with breathless posts in anticipation of the game, it never came to fruition.
"Fans have talked about this as long as I've been in Blacksburg," Tech AD Jim Weaver said. "We're just delighted this worked out."
Both schools have been given an allotment of 17,000 tickets.
Tennessee and No. 12 Tech have only played seven games against each other, with the Volunteers holding a 5-2 advantage. Before the '94 Gator Bowl, the last meeting came during the '37 season. The teams enter this bowl matchup with teams that have gotten it done this season in similar fashion statistically, but with very different makeup in terms of coaching staffs.
Tech, which was 2-2 against ranked opponents this season, is 11th in the nation in scoring defense (15.75 points per game), 14th in total defense (300 yards per game), 28th in scoring offense (31.4 points per game) and 55th in total offense (388.3 yards per game). Tennessee, which is 0-2 against ranked foes, is 16th in total defense (308.8 yards per game), 26th in scoring defense (21 points per game), 32nd in scoring offense (30.6 points per game) and 48th in total offense (395 yards per game).
Kiffin is a 34-year-old Minnesota native who took over at Tennessee after serving for two seasons as coach of the Oakland Raiders in the NFL. He also was an assistant coach at Southern California for six years, including two as the Trojans' offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. His father, Monte, is Tennessee's defensive coordinator, taking the job after spending 26 seasons as a coach in the NFL.
Tennessee finished tied for second in the SEC East with a 4-4 conference record. Running back Montario Hardesty is third in the SEC with 1,306 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton has had a solid season, completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,565 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Dave Johnson contributed to this report
WHO: Tennessee (7-5) vs. No. 12 Virginia Tech (9-3).
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31.
WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta.
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