Virginia Tech receiver Danny Coale was actually surprised to hear that the No. 5 Hokies are favored over No. 20 Clemson in the ACC championship game.
After all, Clemson beat Virginia Tech soundly in October, 23-3.
“I mean, to me they came in here and they played better,” Coale said. “They won. And so to me we have something to prove. We have to play better. And I think for us we're the kind of underdogs in the situation because we've played them once and they came out on the winning end.”
Coale is one of the best interviews in the league. Nice guy. Very well-spoken and thoughtful. But he’s not playing for the underdogs in this game.
The Tigers’ win against Virginia Tech may as well have happened last year, considering how much weight it holds right now -– at least for many outside the program. Clemson and Virginia Tech have spun in different directions since the last time they met, and look like two entirely different teams. The Hokies, propelled by improved offensive play, have won seven straight games entering Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC championship game, while Clemson has lost three of its last four. The two programs have also switched positions in the BCS standings. Clemson was undefeated and ranked No. 5 team in the country in the BCS standings in Week 9. Now that honor of No. 5 in the country belongs to Virginia Tech, while the Tigers have dropped like a rock to No. 20.
Virginia Tech has earned its way back to the top of the ACC standings, and regardless of what happened during the regular season, should now be considered the team to beat on Saturday.
“We can't do anything about what's happened,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We're focusing on Virginia Tech, and we know a lot about them, they know a lot about us having played already this year, but that game is irrelevant to this one. We've just got to get our team's confidence back and get our focus back on execution and fundamentals and technique and try to just get back to playing winning football because right now we're not doing that.”
And they’re not doing it very well.
It all began on Oct. 29 with a 37-17 loss at Georgia Tech. It was Clemson’s first loss of the season and snapped an eight-game winning streak, but it wasn’t a bad loss. Georgia Tech played lights-out, probably its best game of the season. A bad loss came two weeks later to NC State, when Clemson fell, 37-13, and allowed 27 points in the second quarter. Considering everything else that had happened that weekend in college football, the then-ranked No. 7 Tigers could have risen as high as No. 4 in the BCS standings. Instead, they were left to regroup before travelling to rival South Carolina.
You know how that one ended.
“We've both earned the right to be in this game, and like I say, it's irrelevant what we've done, good or bad,” Swinney said. “You know, it's about this game Saturday night and trying to find a way to win it, and that's what we're going to try to do.”
It’s been a while since they’ve won and looked good in the process -- too long since they’ve done it against Virginia Tech for it to matter on Saturday.