Bryan Randall has a pretty firm handle on what No. 10 Virginia Tech faces Monday night against No. 3 Boise State.
As Virginia Tech's starting quarterback from 2002-04, he experienced emotions as both a winner and a loser in games of this magnitude.
In '02, he helped lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 13-3 win at No. 19 Texas A&M, which is the last time the Hokies won a game in its first trip of the season away from Lane Stadium against a ranked opponent. Randall, a Bruton High graduate, split time at quarterback in '03 with Marcus Vick in 10th-ranked Virginia Tech's 31-7 win against No. 2 Miami, a victory that stands as the Hokies' only win in 18 tries against a top-five opponent in the program's history.
Then, there was the '04 season opener against No. 1 Southern California. Under the lights at FedExField in Landover, Md. for the first time, Randall and Virginia Tech were looking for a spark after coming off an 8-5 season in '03.
The stakes were different in '04 than they will be Monday when Virginia Tech returns to FedExField for the Boise State game. In '04, the Hokies just wanted to earn a little respect and get back into the Top 25. This season, No. 10 Virginia Tech enters with national championship aspirations.
Still, there's something unique about being a Hail Mary away from the nation's capital and being able to make a gargantuan impression in a primetime opening weekend game viewed by football nuts across the country. That's the common thread shared by Tech's '04 game against USC and Monday night's game.
"The funny thing is I can't really remember any nerves about going into that USC game," said Randall regarding Tech's 24-13 loss to USC. "I remember just thinking playing USC and Reggie Bush and all those guys was something different, but it was only different because we had a chance to be on a national stage and knock off the No. 1 team.
"At that point in my career, I felt like you weren't going to show me anything I hadn't already seen. I'd played against stiff competition. In truth, I felt like (USC) didn't know what they were getting into against us."
Perhaps current Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a Hampton High graduate, is channeling the same kind of confidence Randall had heading into that USC game. Despite the fact Virginia Tech has lost the last three seasons in its first games away from Lane Stadium – a 48-7 loss in '07 at No. 2 LSU, a 27-22 season-opening loss in '08 to East Carolina in Charlotte, N.C. and a 34-24 season-opening loss last season to No. 5 Alabama in Atlanta – Taylor is no less enthusiastic about Virginia Tech's chances heading into the Boise State game.
"We haven't won the first game in a couple of years, or the big game," Taylor said. "Last year, against Tennessee, that was the biggest game, I guess, in a couple years that we've won. To be on this stage, against a high ranked team in front of all these people on a Monday night, it allows us to showcase our talent. I know we're ready to go out there and play well."
Taylor's assertion about the win against Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season being Virginia Tech's biggest victory in the last couple of years is a bit overstated, especially considering the Hokies' 20-7 Orange Bowl victory against No. 12 Cincinnati to finish the '08 season. But his message isn't lost.
Getting off to a fast start in front of a bunch of eyeballs will be critical.
Though Virginia Tech's trip to Boston College on Sept. 25 could be challenging, a victory against the Broncos would ensure the Hokies would at least be favored to win each of its first eight games. Then again, falling into the trap of looking that far into the future could be hazardous to a team that goes into the season-opener with seven new defensive starters and a left tackle in Andrew Lanier who has been groomed to start on Taylor's blind side for only three weeks.
"The way people are hyping it up, I think if we win we might be ranked a lot higher, but it's just another game to us," Virginia Tech linebacker Lyndell Gibson said. "That's the way we're looking at it. It's just another game on the schedule, and somebody in the way of what we want to do."
Just as he did last season prior to the Alabama game, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is preaching the virtues of playing a highly ranked opponent early in the season. At the very least, there's a little wiggle room for the Hokies to stay in the national title hunt if they lose a non-conference game against a top opponent in an early season game.
After the LSU loss in '08, Tech climbed back to No. 8 in the regular season before losing 14-10 to No. 2 Boston College, officially ending the Hokies' chances at a earning a spot in the Bowl Championship Series national title game. Rest assured, Beamer would rather have a shot at keeping destiny as close to being in his own hands as possible by winning Monday night.
"I think for Boise and us, you talk about the pluses and minuses of playing a game like this, I still say when you're a playing a top program – and they're a little more 'top' than we are, a little higher-ranked than we are – if you win, you've got you a great win," Beamer said. "You've got 11 more games to play. If you lose, I don't think you're necessarily out of the national picture. You've got to get somebody else to help you. I think that's it in a nutshell."