- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech hopes to stay out of the limelight tonight in Miami.

What should be a game between well-matched rivals may be lost in the off-field distractions and a shot to stay alive in the ACC. Back in the national rankings at No. 23 after pounding Clemson last week, the Hokies stopped a two-game slide and have something to prove against the Hurricanes after last year’s home loss ended their undefeated season.

“You look at Miami — I just finished watching our game last year,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said on Tuesday. “And, uh, that was a butt-kicking. And what’s bad is that a lot of those same players are still on the field.”

In a substantial contemporary rivalry that spans two conferences and always seems to have something at stake, these two teams have run roughly parallel courses.

“We go back a long way,” Miami coach Larry Coker said Wednesday. “We’re old Big East partners and now we’re in the ACC.”

What no one could have predicted was the disappointing commonalities that have surfaced this season.

While no one in Blacksburg has called for Beamer’s job, quarterback Sean Glennon has endured plenty of criticism — and in Miami, Kyle Wright has taken plenty of heat despite leading the ACC in pass efficiency just as support for Coker has apparently evaporated.

With the exception of a win last week at Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes obligingly did the Hokies the biggest favor they could in the brawl with Florida International.

A infamous on field throw-down promptly diverted attention from the three Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-2) players arrested this season, followed by the disastrous trip to Boston College in which defensive stars Aaron Rouse and Vince Hall were caught arguing on the sidelines and Brenden Hill was spotted dancing during a television timeout. By the following Tuesday, Beamer already was declining to discuss his own team’s woes, saying only, “I want to talk about the future.”

For Miami (5-3, 2-2), last year’s post Peach Bowl brawl with LSU — and especially this September’s stomping on Louisville’s midfield logo — paled in comparison to the fight with Florida International and even to safety Willie Cooper’s involvement in an off-campus shooting — in which fellow safety Brandon Meriweather fired back with a semi-automatic pistol — and the lingering charges facing receiver Ryan Moore for an altercation with two women.

The criticism continued as the fallout settled for both teams, but today’s date in the Orange Bowl began to look like a battle of the big uglies — taking on an online persona as the Thug Bowl. What remains in today’s contest are two teams who both need a win to keep their seasons alive, but desperately need to win cleanly.

While the Hokies appear to have turned a corner in the last two games, Miami remains the most penalized team in the league — averaging more than 73 yards a game. No matter what the reality may be, the perception of these teams is terrible. Scheduled to air on national television in prime time, plenty of casual college football fans will be watching and the slightest misstep on either side would be immediately scrutinized.

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