The countdown clock in the Virginia football locker room is a perfect symbol of the differences between these two programs.
The thing has been ticking all year long. “BEAT TECH,” the header says. Below, there’s a spot for days, hours, minutes, even seconds. All those digits will hit zeroes at noon Friday, when the Cavaliers host Virginia Tech in their annual rivalry game.
UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall has been on the sidelines for three of these games. He’s lost all three.
Yet the clock stays.
“To try to pretend the game isn’t important or that it’s not different is not real,” UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said this week. “It is. It’s important to the university. It’s important to the state. It’s important to the UVa alumni.
“It seemed important to me because I like being transparent with my team, to acknowledge that.”
You would not find a Commonwealth Cup countdown clock in the Virginia Tech locker room. It’s not because the Hokies underappreciate the value of this matchup. They love this game, and why wouldn’t they? They’ve won it 15 times in a row.
No, it’s because a countdown clock to a game at the end of the season runs counter to the near-sighted goal-setting they try to uphold. Their motto is “to go 1-0 every week,” not to beat Virginia or even win the ACC Coastal Division title.
And that’s the beauty of this year’s edition: Everybody gets exactly what they want.
The Cavaliers, behind dynamic quarterback Bryce Perkins, get another crack at their rival on their home field, on what oddsmakers consider near-equal footing. The Hokies have a chance to complete a remarkable regular-season turnaround and keep the Cup in Blacksburg for the 16th straight year.
For both teams, the myopia of going 1-0 has enormous big-picture implications: a division title and a spot in next week’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
“As important of a rivalry as it is, when both teams have had success, it enhances that,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “Makes it a better spectacle.”
This is the third time since Tech joined the ACC in 2004 that the teams will be playing for a division championship. It previously happened in 2007 and 2011. The Hokies and Cavaliers enter this game with identical records — 8-3 overall, 5-2 in the conference — and both carry three-game winning streaks into Friday.
The only Coastal Division team not to own a division title, UVa already has checked off several important milestones. The Cavaliers opened the year by beating Pittsburgh for the first time under Mendenhall, secured bowl eligibility for the third year in a row and clinched back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2005.
“The players have just done everything I’ve asked them to do to this point,” Mendenhall said. “That doesn’t mean we’re perfect. Doesn’t mean there’s not more to do. Doesn’t mean we’ve reached the pinnacle. It just means progress. Progress every year, steady and unbroken.”
Tech’s season pivoted after a 45-10 loss to Duke in Blacksburg on Sept. 27, that dropped its record to 2-2. The Hokies switched to quarterback Hendon Hooker the following week and have gone 6-1 since, highlighted by consecutive shutouts over Georgia Tech (45-0) and Pitt (28-0) the past two weeks.
“It’s super exciting,” Tech tight end Dalton Keene said. “You would have never guessed at the beginning of the season where we’d be now. A lot of us would have given up a lot to be in the position we’re in now.”
The Cavaliers are equally thrilled with their opportunity. And one glance at the clock reminds them that it’s almost here.