Virginia Tech and Cincinnati meet for the 11th time Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Military Bowl near Navy’s campus in Annapolis, Maryland. Here are a few things to watch during this weekend’s ACC-American Athletic Conference matchup.
Strength in the trenches: The best battle on the field Saturday will be between Virginia Tech’s aggressive defensive front and the sturdy offensive line of Cincinnati. The Hokies (6-6) arrived in Annapolis thanks to their trademark aggressive defense. Led by defensive ends Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem, Virginia Tech finished the year second among FBS teams in both sacks per game (3.83) and tackles for loss per game (8.75). The Bearcats (9-3) are the second-best team in the country at not allowing tackles for loss this season. A veteran offensive line that includes two first-team all-conference players (Parker Ehinger and Eric Lefeld) has quietly been a large part of Cincinnati’s success on offense this season.
QB transplants: Both teams feature first-year starters at quarterback who began their careers at different schools. Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel transferred from Notre Dame before showing this year why he was once considered the best high school quarterback prospect in the country. Kiel completed 60 percent of his throws in a pass-heavy offense this season while picking up 3,010 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes.
Michael Brewer joined the Hokies' roster last spring after graduating from Texas Tech and leaving in search of playing time. Brewer has been a bright spot for a Virginia Tech offense that has struggled this season. He’s thrown 14 interceptions along with his 17 touchdown passes. Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville should have no problem scouting Brewer, who played in nine games at Texas Tech in 2012 when Tuberville was the Red Raiders’ head coach.
Streaking into bowl season: Virginia Tech’s rough year on offense meant the team’s streak of 22 consecutive bowl trips came down to beating Virginia in the regular-season finale. Florida State is the only team that has gone longer without missing the postseason. Cincinnati enters the weekend on a streak of its own. The Bearcats won seven straight to close out the season with a share of the American title. Their last loss was to Miami on Oct. 11.
A common thread: Both teams faced No. 4 Ohio State early in the season with notable results. Virginia Tech pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the year by beating the Buckeyes in Columbus during the second week of the season. The Hokies won 35-21 in their most productive offensive performance of the year (although one of the scores came on a late, game-clinching interception return). Three weeks later, Ohio State and a more confident J.T. Barrett took out some frustrations on Cincinnati’s defense. The Bearcats lost to the Big Ten champs 50-28, despite Kiel’s 352 yards and four touchdowns. That game started a three-game losing streak for Cincinnati.