The turnaround for Virginia Tech didn’t occur in the win over East Carolina that snapped a two-game losing streak to start the season. It didn’t happen in the Nov. 4 win over Georgia Tech, when the Hokies became the first team in ACC history to follow an 0-2 start with a seven-game winning streak. Nor did it happen in the win over Miami that clinched the Coastal Division title.
Virginia Tech changed its course when the seniors called a team meeting after the loss to James Madison and declared their losing streak over.
“We weren't on the same page,” said tight end Andre Smith. “We weren't playing as a team. We weren't acting as a team, and that could obviously be shown throughout our process in those two losses that we began with. But it was huge, and I definitely believe it was the biggest turnaround that we had all season, to get everybody in there and make sure that the seniors stepped up and the veterans talked and made sure that everybody realized what we needed to do here.”
For both Virginia Tech and Florida State, this season has been about comebacks. The Hokies have done it not only in every game following their 0-2 start, but also within the eight games they’ve trailed this year only to come from behind and win six of them. For Florida State, the comeback has been the program’s resurgence back to national relevance. The Seminoles haven’t played in the ACC title game since 2005, when they beat Virginia Tech 27-22. FSU had finished three of the past four seasons unranked and unnoticed, but this year, both the Hokies and Seminoles have finished strong. They’re not done yet, though. As the two teams prepare to meet in Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC championship game, they do so with one more statement to make.
“Going into the season, some people had picked us to play for this game, and of course with us losing the first two games, a lot of people counted us out,” said Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. “We fought back hard every game and worked towards our goal, and I think this is the perfect situation for us to go out there and showcase the talent we have on this team.”
Virginia Tech’s current 10-game winning streak is the longest by an ACC team since Florida State won 17 straight in 1999 and 2000. The Seminoles were 12-0 in ’99 and started the following season with five victories. If the Hokies win the ACC title, they’ll become only the fourth team in conference history to do it after starting out 0-2.
First-year FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has established a new school record for wins by a rookie coach with nine, which ranks third in ACC history. Last week's win over rival Florida was a monumental step in shifting the power within the state. The next task is to do the same in the ACC.
“I think it's huge," Fisher said. "You want to win an ACC championship. You want to make yourself relevant. As soon as you do that, you're in a BCS bowl. Now you make yourself relevant nationally. That's the whole key for every program, where we all want to go. It's a big game for both programs.”
And it’s the first step in returning to the pinnacle of college football -- a place both programs are familiar with. FSU defeated Virginia Tech 46-29 to cap its unbeaten run to the 1999 national championship in the Sugar Bowl.
“I think, obviously, we’re trying to get ourselves back on the map and become relevant again,” said FSU quarterback Christian Ponder. “To beat Florida and win the state of Florida and make it to the ACC championship game, it would be big if we won it. Obviously we want to make it to a BCS bowl, and very few teams get to make that. So if we do, hopefully people would start to take us a little bit more seriously.”