VT Preview

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer can identify with the plight of his counterpart, Florida State's Bobby Bowden.

In similar fashion to FSU's late-season tailspin this fall – Beamer's Hokies dropped four of five games after a 7-1 start in 2003.

"This is part of football," said Beamer, whose fifth-ranked Hokies are two-touchdown favorites over FSU in tonight's inaugural ACC Championship game. "You wish you could go out there and excel every Saturday."

On paper, the game appears an extreme mismatch. Tech owns the nation's best scoring defense, passing defense and is tops in the NCAA in total defense, allowing just 237 yards per contest.

They'll line up against an FSU offense that has turned the ball over four times has much as it has found the end zone during a winless November. To combat the blocking of a paper-thin offensive line, the Seminoles plan to roll quarterback Drew Weatherford out of the pocket more than in past weeks.

The running game – ranked 105th in the nation – has been cause for season-long concern.

"To bottom line is that we are going to have to refocus or it's going to be like it was (in a 34-7 loss to Florida) and we will be embarrassed again," FSU center David Castillo said. "I think we will refocus and come out and play well. We have to."

More promise exists on the other side of the ball for the Seminoles, who boast a defense that mirrors that of Miami's in terms of speed and athleticism. In VT's only loss of the season, the Hurricanes used those factors to their advantage, creating six turnovers in a 27-7 rout.

Despite recent rankles, the FSU defense is still the No. 11 unit in the nation, surrendering just 296 yards a game.

Intangibles favor the Seminoles, who will play in front of a pro-FSU crowd just two-and-a-half hours from its campus. FSU has won 11 of 13 ACC titles since entering the league in 1992 and Bowden has never lost to Tech in stints at West Virginia and in Tallahassee.

The most recent meeting between the teams was a 30-17 victory by FSU in the 2001 Gator Bowl. The Seminoles routed Michael Vick and the Hokies in the 1999 Sugar Bowl for the national championship.

"This is out opportunity to prove that we can still play with the best and that we are a quality team," FSU receiver Willie Reid said. "There's a lot at stake. You don't go into the season not thinking about winning the ACC Championship. They are the defending champs, that's motivation enough."

The Hokies, on the other hand, are still wary of the Seminoles despite the recent woes. A couple losses, VT linebacker Daryl Tapp says, in no way kills a season. He learned that in 2003.

"Even though they've been on a slide, they clinched their side of the conference four weeks ago," Tapp said. "They're playing a one-game season just like we are right now. We're not putting much stock into all the talk."

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