ORLANDO, Fla. — Players on the Rutgers football team know Virginia Tech for a number of things, from its onetime special teams prowess to the Hokies’ current run of 20 straight bowl appearances.
But Tech’s players are fearful they’ve developed a new, less flattering reputation.
“We’re known for not really winning bowl games, I guess, is what people say,” junior quarterback Logan Thomas said. “We definitely hear it. It’s a criticism, but at least we’re here every year. But we know we have to start winning these games.”
The Hokies (6-6), who play Rutgers (9-3) on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Citrus Bowl in the Russell Athletic Bowl, are just 8-11 in bowls in the Frank Beamer era. Virginia Tech has lost four of its past six including the previous two.
“That’s something we need to turn around as a program,” junior linebacker Jack Tyler said. “We have to make sure that our bowl games, that we start winning more of them, that we’re better during bowl season.”
The Hokies finished the year with a bit of steam, winning close games against a pair of subpar opponents in Boston College and Virginia to become bowl eligible. Now, with rumors of possible changes on the offensive coaching staff swirling around the team, Tech will try to notch a victory that will allow it to avoid its first losing season since 1992.
“Seven-and-six sounds a lot better than 6-7,” said junior defensive end James Gayle. “So when I get older I can say, ‘We had a down season, but we still won seven games.’”
A year ago, Tech lost the Sugar Bowl to Michigan, falling in overtime 23-20. In 2011, it was routed 40-12 by Stanford in the Orange Bowl.
“It bothers me just for the fact that since I’ve been here, we haven’t won a bowl game yet,” junior cornerback Antone Exum, a former Deep Run High School star, said. “And we’ve kind of gotten stuck with the stigma of not being able to win the big game. This is definitely a big game. Rutgers is a talented team.”
While the Hokies ended the year on a two-game winning streak, Rutgers lost two of its final three games, ending up with a share of the Big East title but missing out on the program’s first BCS bowl appearance.
“Coming off a loss, it just makes you hungrier for the next game, for the next opportunity,” Rutgers senior wide receiver Tim Wright said. “Fortunately enough, we got this opportunity. Not everybody in the country was able to get the opportunity to play a 13th game.”
The weeks since the Scarlet Knights ended their regular season with a 17-14 loss to Louisville have given the team a chance to recharge its batteries.
“It gives us some time to take care of some of the things that we had to clean up, fix some things on film and get back into the flow of things,” RU senior linebacker Khaseem Greene said. “It’s always good to take a little break. It was good to get our legs back, ease our legs a little bit. It’s kind of like the beginning of the season all over again.”
The Scarlet Knights have been in a bowl game six of the past seven years and have won five straight bowl appearances.
“At the beginning of the year, we don’t ever talk about going to bowl games,” RU coach Kyle Flood said. “We talk about going to bowl games and winning. It’s important to us to be a championship program.”