It's no surprise the football teams at Virginia Tech and UCLA have some studying to do to get familiar about each other.
The schools' campuses are 2,400 miles apart, and the football teams compete against a subset of teams that are practically foreign to the other.
"They're kind of out of our orbit, although right now we just entered the same orbit, so that is going to change real quick," Bruins coach Jim Mora Jr. said.
The Hokies (8-4) and Bruins (9-3) will face off for the first time as football teams in the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. and will be televised by CBS.
Virginia Tech is making its 21st straight bowl appearance while UCLA is playing in a postseason game for the third straight year, the last two under Mora.
The Hokies have gained a reputation over the years for having a fan base that travels well come bowl season, but this game might put a strain on that credibility.
Sun Bowl Stadium is 1,700 miles from Lane Stadium, where Virginia Tech plays its home games.
What the bowl game has going for it in regard to the Hokies' fanbase is the fact Virginia Tech hasn't played in the game since 1947.
"There is a distance issue, but I would hope the matchup with a team such as UCLA, that's attractive," coach Frank Beamer said. "The bowl itself is attractive. I can remember watching this bowl over the years and seeing the stadium, and I think Virginia Tech played in 1947. I was born in 1946, so I was like three months old when we played there the first time.
"I'm very excited about being able to go to the Sun Bowl and playing a team such as a ranked UCLA, and to see a different part of the country, and to hopefully again solidify our reputation as a team that's going to travel well." Virginia Tech faces off against a Pac 12 opponent for only the fourth time in Beamer's 27 seasons as head coach. The Hokies lost the previous three games to California (52-49 in 2003 Insight Bowl), USC (24-13 in 2004) and Stanford (40-12 in 2011 Orange Bowl).
Beamer doesn't have much knowledge of UCLA, particularly this year's team, but that will change in the coming weeks.
Mora said he knows a lot about the traditions and history of Virginia Tech football program from his time as an NFL head coach and assistant. He said he made several trips to Virginia Tech's campus to scout players, and he coached some of the Hokies' all-time greats when they went to the NFL, from Michael Vick and Jim Druckenmiller to DeAngelo Hall and Jimmy Williams.
The Hokies boast the second-longest current bowl streak. No. 1 Florida State will play in its 32nd straight bowl when it takes on No. 2 Auburn in the BCS championship game.
Virginia Tech started the season 6-1 before losing three of its next four games. The Hokies closed out their season on a high note, however, by beating in-state rival Virginia for the 10th straight year.
UCLA, meanwhile, opened the season with five straight wins before losing consecutive road games to No. 5 Stanford and No. 10 Oregon.
The Bruins, who are making their fourth Sun Bowl appearance, won four of their final five games, including a season-ending victory over cross-town rival USC in Los Angeles.
--Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas is the lifeblood of the Hokies' offense. His passing and rushing are essential to the success of the team. The senior has passed for 2,861 yards and 16 touchdowns, and is second on the team with 295 rushing yards and three scores. His running skill will be even more critical for Virginia Tech in the bowl game because of the absence of leading rusher Trey Edmunds, who will miss the game because of a broken leg. Thomas ranks third in the ACC in total offense per game (262.9), fourth in passing yards per game (238.4) and seventh in total touchdowns (20).
--Virginia Tech CB Kendall Fuller, a freshman, has been vital to the Hokies with older brother Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum missing significant time this season to injuries. Kendall Fuller, the ACC's defensive rookie of the year, leads the Hokies and ranks second in the ACC with six interceptions and he leads the ACC with 16 passes defended.
--Virginia Tech WR Demitri Knowles is starting to come into his own as a big-play threat offensively and in the kick return game. He has 43 catches for 619 yards and three touchdowns and is coming off a career game against Virginia, when he had 101 receiving yards. Knowles also ranks fourth in the ACC in kick return average.
--UCLA QB Brett Hundley, like QB Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech, Hundley is critical to every element of the Bruins' offense. He has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 2,845 yards and 22 touchdowns, and leads the team with 587 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. UCLA's offense begins and ends with Hundley, so stopping him will be imperative for the Hokies.
--UCLA OLB Anthony Barr is one of the many stars on the Bruins stellar' linebacking corps. Barr has been the most disruptive in opposing team's backfields this season. The senior has 10 sacks and 22 tackles for losses and he has helped fuel a UCLA defense that ranks 23rd in the country in points allowed (36.5).
--UCLA ILB Eric Kendricks gets to the quarterback and ballcarriers in the backfield, Kendricks is a force in stopping opponents at the second level. The junior leads the Bruins with 106 tackles and also has two sacks this season.
BOWL HISTORY: The Hokies are making their 21st straight bowl appearance, the second longest current bowl streak in the country behind Florida State's 32. This is Virginia Tech's second trip to the Sun Bowl in school history. It's first-ever bowl appearance came in the 1947 Sun Bowl, an 18-6 loss to Cincinnati. UCLA is playing in its third straight bowl and the 34th in school history. The Bruins are 2-1 in Sun Bowl games and 1-1 in bowl games against current members of the ACC. The Hokies are 0-2 against current members of the Pac 12 in bowl games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "In the big picture, I think we did well and finished up well and finished up in a great bowl against a super opponent, so I'm really pleased." -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: The Hokies run game took a major hit in their regular season finale at Virginia when starting RB Trey Edmunds sustained a broken right leg. With him out for the bowl, the Hokies will need to lead more on QB Logan Thomas, who has 295 rushing yards and four touchdowns, and sophomore RB J.C. Coleman, who has 262 yards but no scores). Coleman has had two of his best rushing performances in the last three weeks, a season-high 68 yards at Miami on Nov. 24 and 57 yards on 14 carries at Virginia.
Scouting the passing game: Inconsistency in the passing game has been an issue for the Hokies all season. One week they're torching Miami's secondary in a decisive road win and the next they struggle in a home loss to Maryland. There have been many culprits to Virginia Tech's passing struggles of late. A lack of protection has been a major issue, as opponents have stormed the Hokies' line and dropped QB Logan Thomas for 18 sacks in the last four games. Thomas has also made some questionable decisions under pressure with some costly interceptions, including four in a home loss to Duke and two in a critical road setback against Boston College. Thomas has avoided mistakes in recent weeks, but he still hasn't been able to find much of a rhythm while under so much pressure. Keeping him protected will be the biggest key in the bowl game.
Scouting the run defense: The Hokies rank eighth nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (103.8). They've managed to stay in the top 10 despite allowing some big rushing games to opponents in two of the last four games. Boston College and star RB Andre Williams gashed Virginia Tech for 196 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on Nov. 2 and Maryland had 184 rushing yards and two scores on the ground on Nov. 16. The Hokies have allowed 100 or more rushing yards in three of their last four games after yielding 100 yards in three of their first eight contests.
Scouting the pass defense: Playing without their two starting cornerbacks, seniors Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum, for most of the season, the Hokies have done surprisingly well in the secondary. They owe that success to freshmen CBs Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, who have combined for 11 interceptions. Virginia Tech ranks fifth nationally in interceptions and third in passing yards allowed and passing efficiency defense.
Scouting the special teams: Freshman walk-on K Eric Kristensen went 3-for-3 on field goals in the regular season finale against Virginia, signaling that he can be an adequate replacement for Cody Journell, who was kicked off the team before the Nov. 16 game against Maryland because of a violation of team rules. P A.J. Hughes received second-team All-ACC honors after averaging 44.5 yards per attempt this season. The much-maligned punt coverage unit buckled down in the finale against Virginia, allowing only 13 total yards on four returns after yielding some big returns, including one for a touchdown, against Maryland in their prior game.
Intangibles: In recent years, Hokies coach Frank Beamer has gotten the most out of his teams at the end of the season. Virginia Tech beat Rutgers in last year's Russell Athletic Bowl to cap a three-game win steak to end the season on a high note. Virginia Tech has won three of their last five bowl games, and has won six of its last nine non-BCS bowl games.
--RB Trey Edmunds of Virginia Tech will miss the bowl game because of a broken leg he sustained in the regular season finale at Virginia. Edmunds suffered a broken right tibia in the fourth quarter against the Cavaliers and had surgery to repair the injury the next day. His recovery time is expected to be 4-to-5 months, which means he probably will miss spring practice.
--CB Brandon Facyson left the Virginia game late because of a shoulder injury. Trainer Mike Goforth said X-rays were negative and that the freshman suffered only a sprain of his AC joint.
--Senior CBs Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum have played together in only one game this season because of injuries. They may or may not get the chance to play in the bowl game. Fuller had surgery last month to repair a core muscle injury and his status for the Sun Bowl is in question. Exum missed the regular season finale against Virginia because of an ankle injury and is expected to play in the bowl.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Frank Beamer