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STIEVATER: Bigger than a rivalry

In a year unlike any other, the 2020 edition of Virginia-Virginia Tech football calls for a moment of perspective

<p>Many aspects of the 2020 Virginia-Virginia Tech game will be different this season, and it is something we all need to acknowledge.&nbsp;</p>

Many aspects of the 2020 Virginia-Virginia Tech game will be different this season, and it is something we all need to acknowledge. 

In any normal year, Virginia football fans would likely be bickering with their Virginia Tech friends and family about this year's football game or wagering friendly bets. This would have been the best year for it in a long time, as the Cavaliers won the rivalry game last year after losing in the previous 15 meetings. 

Fans of both teams would normally be unwinding after a food-filled Thanksgiving, getting ready to watch the annual Commonwealth Clash the last weekend of November. Well, as you may have noticed, Thanksgiving has passed yet this year’s game is set to take place Saturday — in mid-December. 

Many aspects of this game are different this season, and it is something we all need to acknowledge. The COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves throughout the college football community and the entire world. During the summer and early fall, the consensus was that a college football season may not even be possible. Most conferences persisted and a season went on, but that is not without games being canceled, players opting out and everyone having to adjust on the fly. 

When the ACC announced Virginia and Virginia Tech’s modified schedules before the 2020 season, this game was slated to be both teams’ season opener Sept. 19. However, due to COVID-19 issues in the Virginia Tech program, the game was postponed to Dec. 12. 

Since then, Virginia’s schedule has only been disrupted a couple of times. First, its game at Louisville was delayed by one week from Nov. 7 to Nov. 14 and then its game at Florida State Nov. 28 was postponed, and most likely will not be rescheduled. Notably, all three of the Cavaliers’ scheduling changes this season have been due to COVID-19 concerns within the opposing teams.

While the Hokies have had to deal with their own coronavirus issues, Virginia Tech’s football schedule has remained largely undisturbed with no postponements since mid-September. However, Virginia Tech did have around 20 players and coaches unavailable for competition due to positive COVID-19 test results or contact tracing throughout the first five weeks of the season.

When taking a glance around the country, the impact COVID-19 has had on other teams is very apparent. Overall, 122 games in all of college football have been affected by the pandemic throughout the entire season. This includes major programs like Florida State and Wisconsin which have postponed or canceled three games each so far. Some schools — like Michigan and Ohio State — have even had to go one step further and completely shut down their football programs for days or weeks to control internal COVID-19 outbreaks.

Compared to other teams, the Cavaliers and the Hokies have done phenomenally well in controlling the virus and continuing on with their respective seasons. Between the two, just one game total has been impacted by COVID-19 problems within either program. Barring any extreme outbreaks, Saturday’s game should go on as scheduled and it is sure to be a good one.

Both teams are entering the game with similar records —  Virginia at 5-4 and Virginia Tech at 4-6. Virginia was expected to take a step back this season — coming off an ACC Coastal Division title and a trip to the Orange Bowl — due to the loss of several key players. Virginia Tech on the other hand began its season ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll and climbed as high as No. 19 before beginning to stumble. However, as every fan of the rivalry knows, records will be tossed out the window once the ball is kicked off at Lane Stadium.

Fans should expect a tight game similar to years past with both quarterbacks leading the way for their teams. Sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong has led the Cavaliers to four consecutive victories and has been solid this season with 1,858 yards and 16 touchdowns through the air as well as 529 rushing yards and five scores on the ground. Although the Hokies have dropped four straight games, junior quarterback Hendon Hooker has been mostly effective, passing for 1,339 yards, rushing for 620 yards and adding 18 total touchdowns. However, Hooker was knocked out of the game in the Hokies' most recent loss to Clemson so it remains to be seen who will start this Saturday. Virginia and Virginia Tech’s offenses run through their respective quarterbacks, and both will need to perform well if they want to lead their team to a win.

No matter what has happened so far, both programs hope to accomplish a goal set at the beginning of the season — win the Commonwealth Cup. On top of that, if there wasn’t enough already at stake, the result of the game will also have huge implications for the Cavaliers and the Hokies’ bowl eligibility. Regardless of these other factors, however, it's safe to say that the game means a lot by itself — to the fans, players and programs. Bragging rights are at stake, as well as the pain of living with a loss for an entire year.

Virginia and Virginia Tech do not like each other, and the game will be undoubtedly intense. However, given this crazy year, winning is not what’s most important. The most important thing is that each team got through the season relatively healthy and with no major complications. 

Amid uncertain times in which the world has seemingly turned upside down, college football has provided both an escape and a sense of reality. Our favorite teams have helped us get through one of the toughest situations we will ever face and made us forget, even if just for a few hours, about the hardships we are all dealing with. 

So when you are watching Virginia battle Virginia Tech Saturday, think about everything these teams — and even you — have been through and overcome the last few months. On top of that, celebrate the end of another exciting college football season and, hopefully soon, the end of the pandemic. That being said, I certainly wouldn't mind celebrating a Virginia win too.

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