- - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

NEW ORLEANS — When Virginia defeated Texas in the 1995 Sugar Bowl, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring remembers the jubilant mood in the locker room, punctuated by the coach’s speech.

“After that game, coach [Frank] Beamer was in the locker room saying we’re going to be back, and we’re going to be better,” he said. “And I was in the back thinking, ‘Whoa, slow down little fella, enjoy the moment here.’

“But he was right.”

If that game was Tech’s announcement of itself as a college football power, Tuesday night’s is about establishing the Hokies as a blue blood. They can do it by knocking one off, as they face Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.

“I think we’re on the brink of those upper echelon teams that have a storied background,” safety Antone Exum said. “I think we need more big wins in the program, and it starts here.”

The numbers vouch that Tech has held its own with other powerhouse programs over the past two decades. Among the 19 straight bowls are six BCS appearances, fourth most nationally.

However, the Hokies also have the third-most losses in BCS games, and their 1-4 record includes two Sugar Bowl losses, either of which could have launched them to that next level.

Stinespring said that after two decades, it’s easy to keep putting in the long hours each day.

“What keeps us driving forward,” Stinespring said, “is the belief and the knowing that there is another level that we can get to. And we will always, consistently aspire to get to it.”

Adding to the pressure is the desire to win for the conference. The ACC hasn’t had much success in recent years and faces additional scrutiny now that it has placed two teams in BCS bowls for the first time.

“We haven’t won enough games against outside competition. That’s just a fact,” Beamer said, referring to the conference.

He’s in the perfect place to do it. The Hokies’ football history is intertwined with New Orleans, and the two intersect again Tuesday night.

The seniors have worked to impart on the younger players that while bowl games are an every year event, and BCS games have been common, the games that can redefine programs are much rarer.

For senior wide receiver Danny Coale, he reflected on that history as soon as the Sugar Bowl pairing was announced.

“You think back to Texas,” Coale said. “You think back to Auburn and the national championship game. Tech’s played in some pretty big games in New Orleans, and this is one of them - going against Michigan, a storied program. I think it’s a program that Tech wants to be like with the winning tradition, and I think we’re on our way there.

“This is an important step in the process.”

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