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Virginia Tech Football: Can the Hokies Win at Heinz Field?

Virginia Tech has never won at Heinz Field. Can they change that this week?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Sports are a strange thing to follow. I like baseball because there are mountains of information, literally reams of data and it can mean everything or absolutely nothing.

Football is no different. There are stats and tendencies but that can quickly fall by the wayside when a team does something unexpected out of the gate.

History and trends are mainly interesting fodder for columns like this one, but sometimes the sports fan in all of us has to wonder if there isn't a little something more to past performance.

In three trips to Pittsburgh since the Panthers began calling Heinz Field home, Tech is 0-3. In 2001 the No. 12 Hokies were roundly thumped 38-7 thanks in large part to the receiving duo of R.J. English and Antonio Bryant.

In 2003 the No. 5 Hokies returned and fell in a close game 31-28 to No. 25 Pitt. Tech made Panther quarterback Rod Rutherford look like a Heisman candidate—though having Larry Fitzgerald helps—and the Hokies went into a late season nosedive that became characteristic of the Tech program in the early 2000s.

In 2012 it was Logan Thomas' turn to see the Steel City and he was rocked by a tough Pittsburgh defense. The Hokies were completely incapable of stopping the Panther ground game. True freshman Rushel Shell finished with 157 yards and Ray Graham added 94 yards and two touchdowns lifting Pitt to a 35-17 upset of the No. 13 Hokies.

Virginia Tech leads the overall series against Pitt 8-5, but it's been lopsided both ways. Tech won four straight in the early nineties when the Panthers weren't very good until the No. 19 Hokies fell 30-23 at the old Pitt Stadium in 1997.

Frank Beamer's club rebounded to win the next three games, but Pitt won four in a row before Tech's 10-point victory at home last season. That makes the Hokies just 3-4 playing in Pittsburgh which pairs nicely with the program's 12-23 overall record playing at current NFL stadiums.

So what's the good news?

The Hokies aren't ranked and that's generally a good thing for them in this series. Tech is just 5-5 against Pitt while residing in the national rankings.

This will mark Tech's record 28th appearance on ESPN's Thursday Night Football telecast with the Hokies posting a 20-7 record in those games so far, including 9-3 on the road.

This game presents a big challenge for a Tech team likely without its top two rushers in Shai McKenzie who's out for the year and Marshawn Williams who might play but is very doubtful and certainly won't be 100% if he does play with a sprained ankle. The Hokies will have to play lights out on defense and make some plays through the air against a very tough Panther defense.

I picked this game as a loss during the preseason, mainly because Tech plays terribly in Pittsburgh. It's probably a direct result of eating Primanti Brothers sandwiches piled high with their "cole slaw" which is just sad, wet cabbage.

The best news for Tech is this team has played well and defied expectations on the road so far this season. 2-0 at Ohio State and North Carolina is no small feat, and a win at Pitt would lay the groundwork for a suddenly exciting stretch run for the Hokies in ACC play.

Can they do it? Of course. Just lay off the "slaw".