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Russell Athletic Bowl: Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech

Next Friday, Rutgers will take on the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Rutgers finished 9-3 with a 5-2 record in the Big East, while Virginia Tech finished a disappointing 6-6, 4-4 in the ACC.

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights were one of the biggest surprises in college football early in the season, but they suffered a heartbreaking 20-17 loss to Louisville in the last week of the regular season. They split the Big East crown and did not get an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. That spot went to Louisville, who is set to take on  Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Rutgers knows they let a huge opportunity slip through their fingers, and now they’re out to prove that they are still one of college football’s toughest teams. “You always feel like your heart is ripped out when you lose a game no matter what,” receiver Mark Harrison said. “It feels the same way with every loss, but (the Louisville) one had a lot on the line and we let it slip.”

Still, even though Rutgers lost a shot at the Sugar Bowl, they have been one of the most consistent teams in postseason play in the last decade: this appearance in the Russell Athletic Bowl is their seventh bowl game appearance in the last eight years. “When you get to the 10-win mark, it separates your team and your year and puts you in a little bit of a different class,” Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said. “Our track record in terms of getting ready for these bowl games is pretty good. I think the bowl season is a new season, and we’ve always approached it like that.”

But it isn’t as if the Hokies aren’t consistent themselves; they’re only the sixth team in history to make a bowl game in 20 consecutive seasons. However, they have not done it in impressive fashion; the Hokies were projected to be a powerhouse in the ACC this season, but head coach Frank Beamer never quite got his squad going, and with the reemergence of title contender Florida State in the conference, Virginia Tech suffered through a lost season. “(This team) gave everything it had down the stretch to keep this streak going,” Beamer said. “If we can find a way to win this game and beat Rutgers and finish with three straight wins, that would say a lot about this team and the players we have.”

Virginia Tech is favored by 2.5 points in this game, and momentum may have a lot to do with that; the Hokies won their last two games of the season while Rutgers stumbled down the stretch. Virginia Tech also still has Logan Thomas at quarterback, one of the most explosive players in college football. He is the team’s leading rusher and threw for nearly 3,000 yards. “He’s definitely a great athlete,” said Rutgers defensive end Ka’Lial Glaud. “You watch him and you see a quarterback that can make every throw on the field. And I saw on one tape where he ran for a 73-yard touchdown. He’s a true dual threat, but he’s different because he wants to throw the ball first. Most of those type guys are thinking run first. He’d rather beat you with his arm but he can also beat you running the ball.”

Thomas’ explosiveness is one of the primary reasons I think the Hokies can cover the 2.5 spread. It isn’t a lot of points, but I like Virginia Tech here.

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