Virginia Tech is in command to land a spot in the ACC title game. Overcoming a key injury to get one more victory could be enough to clinch it, but a little help is also necessary.
The 16th-ranked Hokies will know their fate when they attempt to extend their winning streak to eight for the first time in over five years Saturday against North Carolina.
Virginia Tech (7-2, 5-0) is the only unbeaten team remaining in the ACC and leads the Coastal Division by 1 1/2 games over Miami while sitting two ahead of the third-place Tar Heels (6-3, 3-2).
The Hokies might be in position to book a spot in the title game for the first time since winning it in 2008. They'll need a win over North Carolina coupled with a Hurricanes loss to reigning conference champion Georgia Tech earlier in the day.
If that scenario doesn't come to fruition, Virginia Tech will have another chance when it visits Miami next week before hosting Virginia to close the season Nov. 27.
"Where we started out, where we are right now and we control our own destiny right here, I'm proud of them," coach Frank Beamer said alluding to the two losses to start the season, including a stunning defeat to James Madison of the FCS.
Virginia Tech has rebounded in a big way, winning seven in a row for the first time since an eight-game run Sept. 4-Oct. 27, 2005.
Matching that streak was made tougher Tuesday when the Hokies learned running back and kick returner David Wilson will be out one week with mononucleosis.
Wilson has 480 rushing yards and averages 6.2 yards per carry, but Virginia Tech may have a tougher time replacing his outstanding ability on returns. The sophomore leads the ACC with an average of 28.6 yards while adding two touchdowns on kick returns. He's also second on the team with seven total touchdowns, getting four rushing and one receiving.
Wilson had two touchdowns last week, including the go-ahead score on a 90-yard kickoff return with 2:23 to play, in a 28-21 win over the Yellow Jackets. Cornerback Rashad Carmichael sealed the victory with an interception in the end zone with 8 seconds left.
"It was good for us," Carmichael said. "Down the road, we've got some tough ACC games coming up."
With Wilson out, Virginia Tech may need a stronger effort from Tyrod Taylor, who completed 15 of 25 passes for 137 yards with one touchdown and one interception last week. The senior connected on 67.2 percent of his throws for 733 yards with seven scores and no picks in the previous three games.
Taylor is also a threat on the ground, leading the team with 584 yards after totaling 150 with a TD on 22 carries over the last three games.
He struggled in a 20-17 loss to the Tar Heels last season, going 11 for 23 for 161 yards while scoring two rushing touchdowns despite gaining minus-8 yards on nine carries. In three meetings, Taylor has no passing touchdowns and three interceptions.
North Carolina still has an outside shot at the division title and has T.J. Yates coming off the best passing performance in school history in a 37-35 win at then-No. 24 Florida State last week.
The senior accumulated 439 yards with three touchdowns while completing 24 of 35 passes. He's thrown 15 TDs with four interceptions but will face a defense that has given up an average of 96.0 passing yards and picked off four passes over the last three games.
Coach Butch Davis is well aware of the challenges posed by the Hokies' defense.
"They're not the traditional 3-4, 4-3," he said. "They're eight-man fronts. They've got a lot of pressure packages that they bring. The scheme and style the way they play, their secondary is totally different than anybody you play against."
If Yates has trouble against the Hokies' secondary, North Carolina may turn to running back Johnny White after Virginia Tech gave up a season-high 346 yards on the ground last week.
The senior is also coming off a subpar performance, being limited to seven yards and a score on seven carries against the Seminoles. He gained a career-high 164 yards, with 67 coming on a TD run, while rushing 29 times in a 21-17 win over William & Mary a week prior.
Top 25 Overview
Virginia Tech can move one step closer to locking up the ACC Coastal title with a win over North Carolina. The Hokies have won seven in a row since losing their first two games of the season. The Tar Heels still have an outside shot at the title but would need plenty of help. Virginia Tech leads the series 16-10-6.