MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It has been 16 years since the Virginia Tech football team played a game at West Virginia.
But the Hokies will be returning to town Saturday, much to the delight of WVU fans.
WVU fans who were eating or drinking around Morgantown on Tuesday were eagerly awaiting the game.
“It brings back the rivalry,” Bobby Prim of Morgantown said. “It’s going to be the most fans here in a long time. Everybody wants this game to be back.”
This will be the 53rd meeting in the series. But these long-time rivals have not met since the 2017 season opener at FedEx Field. This will be the first on-campus meeting between the teams since Virginia Tech paid WVU a visit in 2005.
“It’s probably one of the biggest games here since maybe the LSU game in 2011,” WVU graduate Aaron Pertee of Morgantown said. “This is the most buzz I’ve heard from a game … in a long time.
“I like the border rivalry. … It’s a more personal rivalry than say a Texas or an Oklahoma rivalry because of the neighboring states.”
Tech and WVU met annually from 1973 through 2005. The teams used to be Big East rivals, but Tech jumped to the ACC in the summer of 2004. The conference switch was the main reason the series ended after nonleague meetings in 2004 and 2005, although there was also a desire by the schools to curtail fans’ sometimes heated behavior at the games. The teams did not meet again until 2017 at the Washington Football Team’s stadium.
“It’s going to be one of the most packed games in a long time,” said WVU graduate student Wes Varney, a West Virginia native who got his bachelor’s degree at WVU. “I have more friends coming up for this game than I’ve had come up for a long time.
“It brings back a lot of the days that I used to watch Big East [football]. … That’s what I’m excited about.”
Tech has won seven of the last nine meetings in the series, including the past three.
“[Before] we left the Big East, we always went to all the away games, and one of our favorite trips was to Blacksburg,” WVU graduate Rocky Simmons of Morgantown said. “It’s a great rivalry.
“It’s two towns that are very similar. They’re not big cities. [Football] means everything to everybody there.
“We miss this rivalry. … We respect Virginia Tech.”
How will the sellout crowd at Milan Puskar Stadium treat the 15th-ranked Hokies?
“It’s going to be pretty hostile,” Prim said. “It’s going to be pretty rowdy.”
Some on-campus games in the rivalry have featured unruly behavior from some fans.
But Saturday’s game kicks off at noon, which could eliminate any bad behavior.
“It being a noon game, I think it’s going to be a little bit tamer than normal,” Varney said.
WVU graduate Gary Shears of Morgantown expects fans to be well-behaved.
“Unfortunately,” he said. “Most of these students don’t really remember that time enough. I think they’ll probably try and be rowdy, but I don’t know that they’ll really rival anything we had back in the good old days.”
WVU is now a member of the Big 12, but West Virginia fans miss former Big East rivals and current ACC members Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Miami.
“Virginia Tech and Pitt are the two biggest rivalries we’ve ever had,” Prim said.
Some WVU fans wish their school belonged to the ACC.
“I don’t understand why they don’t like us because I think we’re better than over half of their teams,” Shears said. “We fit better in there [than in the Big 12], just with the rivalries.”
“With where we’re located, we’re so close to a bunch of the ACC schools,” WVU student Mark Land of Ashburn, Virginia, said. “It would make so much more sense to be in the ACC.”
Who is WVU’s annual rival these days?
“I don’t think that we have one right now, and that’s a sad thing,” Simmons said.
“I don’t think West Virginia really has a rival at this point,” WVU graduate John Sinsel of Morgantown said. “In conference, your closest team is what, 800 miles away?”
That’s why fans are looking forward to Saturday.
WVU graduate Jessie Shrewsbury of Morgantown grew up in Bluefield, West Virginia, so the Tech game is particularly appealing to her.
“It’s like an hour and a half from where I’m from. Most of my high school went there,” she said.
Prim considers Oklahoma to be WVU’s biggest Big 12 rival, while other fans consider Texas to be WVU’s chief Big 12 rival.
“Everybody always shows up to hate on Texas,” Pertee said.
But Texas and Oklahoma will be leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference in 2025.
“Oklahoma has been horrible for us in football,” Varney said. “Getting them kind of out of the way seems to be it’s going to put us in a better spot.”
The Big 12 will be adding Cincinnati, Houston, BYU and Central Florida to make up for the Oklahoma and Texas departures.
Some fans figure Cincinnati will become WVU’s top Big 12 rival because of the proximity.
“There’s a rivalry there [with Cincinnati], but it’s nothing like we’ve had over the years with Tech, with Pitt, with Miami,” said former WVU basketball player Josh Yeager, a West Virginia native. “Virginia Tech [fans] will travel very well to come up here Saturday.