Virginia Tech comes into the Belk Bowl off a strong showing in the ACC Championship Game despite losing 42-35 to Clemson. Quarterback Jerod Evans has the Hokies offense rolling, and it sets the tone for what should be a fun matchup against an equally explosive Arkansas team.
Date: Thursday, Dec. 29
Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium -- Charlotte, North Carolina
Virginia Tech: This is about capping a strong return to ACC title contention with a win against the SEC in Charlotte. It's not much of a drive for a fan base that travels well, and many know the area from winning a couple of Tech's four ACC titles between 2004-10 there in Uptown Charlotte. To take down an SEC foe and win 10 games in Justin Fuente's first season as coach would be a huge finish to an already memorable season.
Arkansas: With what is now three straight bowl appearances, Bret Bielema has fallen into a good rhythm at Arkansas. After going 0-8 in league play and 3-9 overall in 2013, he's achieved 22 wins since, an even 25-25 overall. Since there hasn't been that jump to winning nine or 10 games yet, small things like winning (or losing) bowl games and big out-of-conference matchups can have a big impact on the perception of the program's health. It was "borderline erotic" kneeling out the clock against Texas and Alex Collins ran wild in the Liberty Bowl, now the Hogs are hoping to add knocking off a ranked Hokies team to that collection of bowl memories.
Players to watch
Bucky Hodges (TE) and Isaiah Ford (WR), Virginia Tech: This game looks like a good chance for Hodges and Ford to have a high-volume performances, using size (Hodges) and speed (Ford) to get a lot of solid looks if the game turns into an up-tempo affair. Both players are writing their name in the school record books as two of the most prolific pass catchers to ever play for the Hokies as Evans plays distributor in the backfield.
Rawleigh Williams, Arkansas RB: The next up in the revolving door of high-volume rushers under Bielema, Williams has made the most of this opportunity as the No. 1 back. He leads the SEC with 1,326 rushing yards and is tied for third with 12 rushing scores. There have been games this season where Austin Allen has more success airing it out, but Arkansas is at its best when the offense is based around a punishing does of Williams and budding freshman Devwah Whaley.
Virginia Tech played better than Arkansas most Saturdays this season. Arkansas was young, learning on the field and wildly talented on offense with Allen running the show at quarterback -- often playing quite well as underdogs. The Hogs also have plenty of experience against ranked opponents this season (seven) but had too many underwhelming defensive performances this season to give me confidence in them stopping Evans. I'll sweat the cover, but Virginia Tech will win. Pick: Hokies (-7.5)