In some ways, it is the same Virginia Tech, the preseason pick to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. Tough defense, tougher special teams, coached by Frank Beamer, who always has seemed to find a different way to beat teams during his 21 years running what has become an elite program.
But Tech football is different this year - and always will be different - in the aftermath of the on-campus tragedy April 16 in which 32 people were killed and many others wounded by a Tech student, Cho Seung-Hui, who went on a shooting rampage before committing suicide.
The football team has been one of the rallying points for the campus community, as it has been since Beamer arrived and established himself as the winningest coach in Tech history.
Blacksburg, Va., has been a fairly regular stop on ESPN's Thursday night schedule, and it's been a fertile time for Tech, which is 13-2 in that time slot. But Thursday night against Boston College has not proven as profitable for the Hokies, whose two losses have come against the Eagles.
Still, Virginia Tech's overall success ratio on that night is probably one reason coach Jeff Jagodzinski's unbeaten and second-ranked Eagles will enter raucous Lane Stadium tomorrow night as a field goal underdog to the once- beaten and No. 8 Hokies, who since 2000 trail only Miami (76-19) in the ACC in overall success with a 74-23 record. Boston College is third with a 67-27 mark.
Aside from a 48-7 pounding at Louisiana State in the second game of the season, Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0 in the ACC) has shown its usual aggressive, dominating style, especially the last two weeks, which produced a 41-23 win over Clemson and a 43-14 rout of Duke.
The Hokies have allowed an ACC-low 112 points, which is even more impressive since they are now playing without their leading tackler, linebacker Vince Hall, who is out with a broken left wrist.
Offensively, the Hokies have been affected by injuries as well, as Beamer has used two quarterbacks, veteran Sean Glennon and freshman Tyrod Taylor, who is questionable for tomorrow night with a high left ankle sprain.
Beamer says he will make a game-time decision on Taylor, who has not started since a 28-7 win over Ohio University Sept. 15. Glennon, who was replaced as starter after two ineffective games, has the attitude of a veteran ready to do his job.
"I'm preparing myself as if I'm going to play," said Glennon, who was the starter last year in BC's 22-3 win over Tech, a game in which he was sacked three times.
BC defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani says his players are prepared for either quarterback. "We still have to come up with ways to stop them no matter who they start," said Spaziani.
Generally, special teams are the catalyst for Beamer's Hokies. Jagodzinski is aware of that, as well as the importance of playing a "clean, turnover-free game" against Tech.
Tech's task is just as clear - stop quarterback Matt Ryan.
"We've just to get after him," defensive tackle Carlton Powell told the Roanoke Times this week. "We have to get after them with four-man heat. We're definitely going to try and get him rattled."
That is what Tech thrives on: Getting the other teams rattled, especially in Lane Stadium, where the crowd is definitely a factor.
Jagodzinski says he knows what to expect from Virginia Tech and what his team must do.
"They're very good at special teams," he said. "We need to manage the game and not give up big plays. They do have the ability to do some damage [if you make a mistake].
"They haven't done anything different in 15 years. That's the way Frank coaches . . . good, tough, hard-nosed defense."
Mark Blaudschun can be reached at email@example.com.