The Hokies, who are 10-2 overall and ranked ninth in both major polls, closed the regular season with a 16-10 road win over a ninth-ranked Miami team to clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference title. A week earlier, the Hokies set the stage to win the conference title in their first year in the ACC by overpowering their in-state rival, 16th-ranked Virginia, 24-10.
As impressive as the opposition is, Auburn sophomore safety Will Herring predicts his Tigers will be ready as they try to become the first 13-0 team in AU football history.
"The leadership on this team is going to keep us headed in the right direction and not let us waiver from our goal, which is to prove to everybody the type of team we are," says Herring, who is finishing his second season as a starter. "We didn't go 12-0 by luck or anything like that."
Herring says despite being ranked behind Southern Cal and Oklahoma in AP Top 25 and coaches Top 25 polls, he believes the Tigers are really the top team in the country. "I believe, to a man, we feel like if we show up on any given night and play the way we are capable of we can take care of any team in the country," Herring says.
Virginia Tech is making its third all-time Sugar Bowl appearance and has won one and lost one in New Orleans. Auburn has one win, one tie and two losses in its previous Sugar Bowl appearances.
If Auburn is going to win again, which would be its 15th straight victory dating back to beating Alabama in the 2003 season, the Tigers have to stop Virginia Tech's big-play threat, Bryan Randall, Herring contends. The 6-0, 228 senior has started a school record 37 games. Randall has thrown for 6,190 career yards, which is first in school history, and has passed for 46 touchdowns, which is one shy of the school record.
Herring notes that Randall is also a threat to run the football. The senior has 1,481 career net rushing yards, the second most by any quarterback in school history.
"Randall almost seems like a collegiate Donovan McNabb," Herring says. "We have faced several quarterbacks who can throw the ball the equivalent of him, in my opinion, but I don't know if we have faced any as athletic as him. We have to stop both his throwing and running, but when they are running an option play we need to make sure we get the ball out of his hands and force him to pitch it."
Herring says the Tigers are realistic in knowing that there isn't much of a chance of jumping to number one in the AP Top 25 poll with a victory to cause a split national championship like happened last year with LSU and Southern Cal, but says the Tigers are ready to see what happens if they win again.
"We still feel like there is a shot," he says. "We are the only game in the country on Monday night and there will be a lot of eyes on the Sugar Bowl."
Herring says the Auburn defense is looking to finish the season with one of its best performances after not being happy with its play vs. Tennessee. The Tigers won 38-28 in the SEC Championship Game. The Vols only scored 10 points in their regular season loss to the Tigers. Prior to the championship game, the most points the Tigers had allowed this season was 20 vs. Arkansas.
Will Herring (35) makes a play in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
"Everybody has their good games and bad games," Herring says. "Fortunately for us, our one bad game on defense, which was in the SEC Championship Game, happened on a day when the offense came through for us."
The Hokies, who are averaging 364.8 yards per game on offense and 32.2 points per game, will challenge the Tigers, notes Herring, a point defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has been emphasizing to his players in practice.
"Coach Chizik told us their offensive line would be the most physical we will face all year," Herring says. "They get after it and play football the way it should be played so obviously we have got to stop the run first. They run first and have a great quarterback in Randall, who has two great receivers he likes to go to a lot. We have to try to keep him in the pocket and make him beat us throwing because he is really dangerous in the open field with the football."
The Hokies average 186.8 yards per game rushing compared to 189.4 for the Tigers. Virginia Tech passes for 178 yards per contest while Auburn averages 241.4 yards per game passing.
Kickoff time for the game at the Superdome is 7:13 p.m. and the contest will be telecast by ABC. Auburn leads the all-time series with Virginia Tech 2-1-1.