College Football

Two Veteran Squads, Arkansas, Virginia Tech to Square off in Dec. 29 Belk Bowl

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This story was compiled and written by University of Connecticut journalism students Michelle Kalupski and Faith Celeste McCarthy, with information and statistics provided by ESPN, the University of Arkansas sports information department, Virginia Tech University sports information department, the Razorbacks football website, the Hokies football website and the Belk Bowl website.

The Arkansas Razorbacks, a recent regular in bowl competition, will meet the Virginia Tech Hokies, who hold the longest active consecutive bowl appearance streak in the NCAA, at 5:30 Dec. 29 (ESPN) in the Belk Bowl at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. It’s their first meeting ever.

The Belk Bowl represents teams from two powerful conferences: Arkansas Razorbacks (7-5) 3-5 in the SEC and the Virginia Tech Hokies (9-4) 6-2 in the ACC.

The Razorbacks, coached by Bret Bielema, will be making their third straight bowl appearance, according to the University of Arkansas sports information department.

They have appeared in a bowl three times in a row, six times in the program’s history, according to the department.

This is Bielema’s fourth season as head coach at Arkansas, after previously spending six years as head coach at Wisconsin, according to the Razorback football website.

“I don’t know a lot about Virginia Tech other than what I saw last night (in the ACC title game),” said Bielema, adding, “We’ve got a really great opponent to prepare for that presents a lot of challenges.”

In 2014 Arkansas won the Texas Bowl against the University of Texas and they won the 2016 Liberty Bowl against Kansas State, according to the Razorback football website.

Arkansas had a strong 5-2 start to the season, but ended 5th in the SEC West, according to ESPN.

The Belk Bowl will provide Arkansas a chance to finish with eight wins for a second consecutive season, according to ESPN.

Back in week two, Arkansas had a huge 41-38 win in double overtime against TCU, who was then ranked #15, according to ESPN.

The Razorbacks also had ranked wins against Ole Miss and Florida, the SEC East champion, according to ESPN.

Arkansas is entering the Belk Bowl with losses in two of their last three games, according to ESPN.

This includes a 28-24 loss to Missouri, after they led the game 24-7, according to ESPN.

A key force to the Razorbacks this season is junior quarterback, Austin Allen, who finished second in the SEC in passing yards (3,152) and touchdown passes (23), according to ESPN.

Additionally, Allen earned the SEC Offensive Player of the Week for the week of Sept. 12, according to the Razorback football website.

However, Allen was tied with Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs for the most interceptions in the league (12), according to ESPN.

Another driving force is sophomore running back Rawleigh Williams III.

In his breakout season, he was a three-time SEC offensive player of the week, the SEC leading rusher, and had seven 100 yard games, according to the Razorback football website. He had 1,326 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns this season, according to the Razorback football website.

The Razorbacks should serve as a competitive match up for the Hokies at the Belk Bowl.

The Hokies, coached by Justin Fuente, will be making their 24th straight bowl appearance, the longest active streak in the NCAA, according to ESPN.

This is Fuente’s first season as head coach at Virginia Tech, after previously spending three years as head coach at Memphis, according to ESPN.

Fuente was named ACC Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.

“Our seniors deserve to end their careers out on a positive note,” said Fuente, adding “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to this senior class and our staff will do everything possible to prepare our squad to face a quality foe like Arkansas.”

The No. 22 ranked Hokies are coming off a 42-35 loss in the ACC Championship against Clemson, according to the Virginia Tech University sports information department. Virginia Tech ended the season in 1st place in the ACC Coastal division.

In 2014 Virginia Tech won the Military Bowl against the University of Cincinnati and won the 2015 Independence Bowl against Tulsa, according to ESPN.

According to ESPN, the Hokies are looking to get a 10-game win season for the first time since 2011.

The Hokies loss to No.17 ranked Tennessee in week two but beat No. 17 ranked UNC 34-3 in week five, according to the Virginia Tech University sports information department.

Virginia Tech is entering the Belk Bowl with two losses in their last four games. This includes their 20-30 loss to Georgia Tech and their ACC Championship loss to Clemson, according to ESPN.

Quarterback Jerod Evans lead the Hokies offense this season.

Evans, junior transfer from Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas, has 3303 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes on the season, according to the Virginia Tech University sports information department.

Evans tallied seven interceptions and 10 rushing touchdowns, which is four more than his leading running back Travon McMillian (6) had, according to ESPN.

“Coach Beamer and his teams built Virginia Tech into the nation’s most consistent postseason participant and we appreciate the standard we’re expected to uphold,” said Fuente, adding, “For myself, these seniors and this entire squad, we felt an obligation to extend Coach Beamer’s bowl streak. Now, our objective is to prepare and play to the best of our ability to conclude this season with a victory.”

“I can’t thank Hokie Nation enough for their unwavering support and our team looks forward to seeing the stands packed with Maroon and Orange in Charlotte,” said Fuente.

The Belk Bowl started back in 2002, and was originally called the Continental Tire Bowl, according to the University of Arkansas sports information department.

This matchup will be the 15th game in the bowl’s history, according to the University of Arkansas sports information department.

This is the first appearance in the Belk Bowl for both Arkansas and Virginia Tech, according to the University of Arkansas sports information department.

Last year, the bowl featured Mississippi State and North Carolina State, with Mississippi State coming out with the win.

The SEC is 2-0 since the conference has started to play in the Belk Bowl, according to the University of Arkansas sports information department.

The game will feature a FanFest concert by country artist Tim McGraw, according to the Belk Bowl website.

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