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Surprise obstacle: Va. Tech

The Orange Bowl once more is home to a big game. The University of Miami again is the usual host, but Virginia Tech plays the unexpected guest.

The Big East Conference schedule appears to have shrunk to two games, with the first at 3:30 p.m. today on the Hurricanes' home field.

The No. 13 Hokies (7-1) enter with a 4-1 league record and a shot at their first Top 10 ranking and Big East crown. The sixth-ranked Hurricanes (5-1) are 2-0 in the conference and know that wins over Virginia Tech and at No. 14 Syracuse (4-0, 6-1) next week could clear a path to the league title.

"We've got everything in our own hands in the next two weeks," said UM defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "It comes down to this week and next, really."

Of Pittsburgh, Temple and Boston College, only the Eagles appear to pose a threat to Miami in its final three Big East games, and the Boston College game is at the Orange Bowl.

A Tech upset would leave the Hokies pulling for a Miami victory over Syracuse, creating a three-way tie for first place. The Orangemen beat the Hokies 28-20 earlier this season.

"We've still got a real shot at the Big East, and we've reminded the players of that," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "They know if we're going to make that next step, we've got to win games like this. Teams don't go (into Miami) and win games, but we can't go in with that attitude.

"We've got to block everything out and play the game. If we do that, we can win."

The outcome is expected to hinge on UM's offense vs. Tech's defense. Both teams allow 12.8 points per game, but the Hurricane offense is averaging more than five touchdowns.

"This may be the best defense we've faced," UM coach Dennis Erickson said. "They're very sound and make plays on the ball."

For the second straight game, Miami will be without fullback James Stewart, who is nursing a sprained ankle.

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