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July 15, 2014

WVU to play Va. Tech in 2017 season opener

MORGANTOWN — In keeping with its new direction in scheduling, West Virginia University announced Tuesday that it would open the 2017 football season with a neutral field game against longtime rival Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The game will be played Sept. 2 at FedExField in Washington, D.C. FedExField is home to the Washington Redskins of the NFL.

FedExField is becoming a home away from home for the Mountaineers as West Virginia will also play BYU on Sept. 26, 2016, and beat James Madison, 42-12, in 2012.

The series with Virginia Tech is one of the most hotly contested rivalries for the Mountaineers, so much so that it is played for the Black Diamond Trophy.

WVU leads the series that dates back to 1912 by 28-22-1 although the Hokies, under Coach Frank Beamer, have been dominant in recent years.

Virginia Tech has won the last two, six of the last eight and nine of the last 12.

The two teams have not played since 2005.

There were any number of spectacular individual performances over the years in games between the two teams, WVU’s Grant Wiley making a goal line tackle of Lee Suggs as the nation’s leader in touchdowns scored tried to get in from the 1-yard line and Tech quarterback Michael Vick’s escape and scramble for a 26-yard gain to set up a game-winning field goal in Morgantown that saved the season for the No. 3 Hokies.

But more important is the symbol that in these changing times in NCAA football, with WVU joining the Big 12 and the national championship moving to a four-team playoff, the Mountaineers are willing to play a tougher schedule that includes non-conference, neutral field matchups.

Athletic director Oliver Luck believes this is necessary to have a strength of schedule strong enough to qualify for the postseason playoff.

“I think it’s pretty clear that strength of schedule is going to become very important. Ultimately, it’s going to boil down to the committee having a couple of one-loss teams you’re trying to decide between,” Luck has said.

“Sometimes a team won’t want to do a home-and-home, for whatever reason, but this is a way to upgrade the schedule.”

For example, Luck has agreed this season to take on national powerhouse Alabama, one of the favorites to win the national title, in a neutral field game in Atlanta to open the season on Aug. 30 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

Luck also has upgraded his future schedules with home-and-home series against Virginia Tech — this game has no connection to that contract — and longtime rival Penn State.

WVU plays Virginia Tech in 2021 and 2022 and follows that with games against the Nittany Lions on Sept. 2, 2023, in Beaver Stadium, and the Nittany Lions will travel to Morgantown on Aug. 31, 2024.

“West Virginia University had a great experience at FedExField in 2012, and we are looking forward to playing there again against Virginia Tech,” Luck said in the release announcing the game.

“Not only do our players enjoy playing in NFL stadiums, West Virginia has a lot of alumni living in the Washington, D.C., metro area, and playing at a great venue like FedExField gives our fans a road game that is in close proximity. West Virginia and Virginia Tech have had a great historical rivalry over the years, and it’s great that the two schools can renew the series, starting in Washington, D.C., in 2017, and then two games in 2021 and 2022.”

“It is an exciting matchup for both schools’ fans to look forward to,” said Whit Babcock, a WVU graduate who serves as Virginia Tech athletic director and is formerly head of the Mountaineer Athletic Club at West Virginia. “I appreciate the work of Coach Beamer and Associate AD John Ballein in arranging this extremely strong non-conference matchup. Not only will the game renew a passionate rivalry, it will also be played at a site that is centered in a major alumni base for both schools.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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