When we think about college football rivalries that were affected by conference realignment we lament what was lost in the process: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma. Penn State vs. Pittsburgh. Florida vs. Miami. Texas vs. Texas A&M.
Virginia Tech has experienced not one, but two major conference changes in the past 25 years, and this has had an impact on its historical football rivalries. How has being a member of the Big East and now the ACC molded who Hokies and their fans view as rivals? Have any new rivalries been born out of realignment?
The Independent Years
Before 1995, Virginia Tech was a football independent and therefore didn't have a regular conference schedule. The Hokies still had regular rivals which they played, if not annually, at least semi-annually. Who were those teams? A look at historical records reveals the following list of teams played from 1980 to 1992:
- Virginia, West Virginia (13 times each)
- Richmond, Clemson (7)
- William & Mary, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, East Carolina (6)
- VMI, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, NC State, Syracuse, Temple, Louisville, Florida State, Miami (5).
Quite different from today's schedule, huh? Hard to believe Virginia Tech used to play Richmond, William & Mary and VMI so often, but it's true (I can vouch for the rivalry aspect because I was there for some of those games!). Still, we can see in those old schedules the seeds of an ACC relationship back then; besides Virginia, there was Clemson, Wake Forest, NC State, Syracuse, Miami, Louisville and Florida State. Strange that all but 2 of those teams are in the Atlantic division though... hmmm.
At any rate, I'm going to use my judgment and say that the only two bona fide rivals during this time period were Virginia and West Virginia.
The Big East Years
The Hokies joined the Big East in 1991 but only began playing a full Big East schedule in 1993. For the next 11 years the schedule looked like this:
- Rutgers, Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Temple, West Virginia, Miami and Virginia (11)
- East Carolina (5)
- (no other team more than 3 times).
Besides the other seven Big East football teams, the only regular opponents who stayed on the schedule were Virginia and East Carolina. During this time period I submit that there were three games which most Hokies looked forward to every year: Virginia, West Virginia, and Miami.
While Donovan McNabb was at Syracuse you could probably add the Orange to that short list. Visits to the Carrier Dome were most unwelcome in those days; Virgnia Tech won just one game in the Carrier Dome after aligning itself with the Big East (2000), and it took Michael Vick's heroics to get it done.
This is also when the Virginia Tech / Miami rivalry grew into a two-sided affair. Miami had taken the first 12 games in the series up through 1994, but since then Virginia Tech has won 13 of 19. In fact, Frank Beamer is 13-10 against the Canes, possibly his single biggest accomplishment towards building the Hokies into a nationally-recognized football program.
I'm going to say Miami and Syracuse definitely became rivals during this time period, and I'll add that the seeds of a rivalry with Boston College and Pittsburgh were also planted.
The ACC Years
Since 2004 the Hokies have played in the ACC, so of course that means six (now seven) opponents remained static each season: Miami, Ga Tech, Duke, UNC, UVa, BC and now recent fellow Big East refugee Pittsburgh. So it's no surprise that all of those teams (except Pitt) appear on the most-played list. East Carolina remains as a frequent opponent (since Weaver scheduled them through 2038) and is followed by Maryland, Clemson and Florida State.
Looking back we have to conclude that Va Tech has had three long-time rivals: Virginia, West Virginia, and to some extent, East Carolina as well. Of these the West Virginia rivalry has been dormant the longest, though it looks like we may see that one renewed in time.
Have the Hokies been able to form any new rivalries over the last 22 years of conference flux? You betcha!
The most notable rivalry, in my opinion, is the one Virginia Tech formed with the Miami Hurricanes during the Big East years (but which continues to this day). Tech has played Miami every year since 1992, with lots of dramatic games to boot.
Georgia Tech is probably the most important post-ACC rivalry - the so-called "Battle of the Techs". These teams only played once before 2004, so this rivalry was truly born out of Tech's ACC affiliation.
Boston College seemed poised to become an important rival for Virginia Tech, but then the Eagles "Spazzed" on us. If the Eagles can get back to ACC championship game contention this rivalry could grow.
Pittsburgh looks and feels like a rivalry that's just waiting to happen.
Will the Hokies still be in the ACC 20 years from now? Who knows (personally I hope things work out that way, but it has to be good for Tech). If so, I think we'll look back and say that the Hokies' biggest football rivalries are right here in our own conference.