Arkansas and Virginia Tech will square off at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Belk Bowl, marking the 17th straight holiday season that Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium has hosted a postseason college football game.
Tickets for the contest are still available (www.belkbowl.com), and there also will be the annual pep rally at the EpiCentre on Wednesday evening and FanFest before Thursday’s kickoff.
To get you ready for the game, here are 10 things to know:
1. SEC has the edge
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For the past two seasons, the Belk Bowl has matched teams from the ACC and SEC. The SEC’s teams have won them both – easily. Georgia whipped Louisville 37-14 in 2014, and Mississippi State trounced N.C. State 51-28 in monsoon-like conditions last year.
2. Bowl winning streaks
Arkansas and Virginia Tech have won their last two bowls. Arkansas won the 2014 Texas Bowl (31-7 over Texas) and the 2012 Cotton Bowl (29-16 over Kansas State). Virginia Tech won the 2015 Independence Bowl (55-52 over Tulsa) and the 2014 Military Bowl (33-17 over Cincinnati).
But both teams have losing records overall in bowls – Arkansas at 14-23-3, Virginia Tech at 12-17.
3. Razorbacks not intimidated
Virginia Tech’s No. 22 national ranking probably won’t bother the unranked Razorbacks. Arkansas is 3-3 this season against Top-25 teams, with victories against TCU, Mississippi and Florida. Virginia Tech is 1-2 against ranked teans, with a 34-3 win at North Carolina.
4. Uptown pep rally Wednesday
Cheerleaders and fans of both teams will gather Wednesday evening at the EpiCentre in uptown for a pep rally. Fan Central activities begin at 7 p.m., with the pep rally starting at 8 p.m.
5. Big change for FanFest
As usual, FanFest and a concert will precede Thursday’s game, but there’s a new wrinkle this year. The concert will be at 2 p.m. in BB&T Ballpark, and you’ll need a Belk Bowl game ticket (and a concert voucher, which must be picked up in advance) for admission. Country singer Tim McGraw is this year’s headliner.
In past years, the concert was on the FanFest main stage, at Mint and Stonewall streets. You can still see the concert (with or without a game ticket) on big screens at the FanFest stage or at Romare Bearden Park, across from BB&T Ballpark.
6. Meanwhile, back in Arkansas …
The University of Arkansas is sponsoring a viewing part on campus in Fayetteville for fans who want to see the game but can’t travel to Charlotte. For $15, fans can watch the Belk Bowl on four big screens inside Bud Walton Arena, then hang around for the Razorbacks’ SEC men’s basketball game against Florida.
7. Two fast teams
A Belk Bowl tradition was renewed Monday, when players and coaches of both teams visited Charlotte Motor Speedway and were given 160-mph rides around the track by trained drivers. It’s always entertaining to see the big linemen cram themselves into the race cars.
Freshman Brandon DePrato, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound freshman defensive lineman from Arkansas, tweeted: “Thank you @belkbowl for allowing me to fulfill my lifetime dream of becoming Ricky Bobby even if it was only for a day.”
8. Famous Belk Bowl players
A number of well-known players have appeared in Belk Bowl games. Dak Prescott, rookie standout quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys, led Mississippi State past N.C. State last year and set Belk Bowl records for passing yardage (378) and passing touchdowns (four).
Some others: NFL veteran Matt Schaub (Virginia quarterback) in 2002 and 2003; Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Matt Ryan (Boston College) in 2006; Butler High product Kenneth Moore (Wake Forest), a wide receiver who was the 2007 Belk Bowl Most Valuable Player; and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) in 2011.
9. Schools’ famous alumni
Arkansas: Golfer John Daly; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Johnson; Walmart executive S. Robnson Walton; former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson; and former Gov. and U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, who founded the Fulbright scholarship.
Virginia Tech: Gerry Beckley, founder of the rock group America; Roger Craig, former big champion on “Jeopardy”; Hoda Kotb, NBC “Today” show host; Dell Curry, former NBA standout who is now a Charlotte Hornets announcer and father of NBA star Stephen Curry; Homer Hickam, a West Virginia youth whose rise to fame as a NASA scientist was documented in the movie “October Sky.”
10. TV, radio game announcers
ESPN will provide TV coverage, with Mike Patrick doing play-by-play and Ed Cunningham handling color. They also teamed to broadcast the 2012 Belk Bowl. Former WFNZ-AM sports talk show host Taylor Zarzour will be the radio play-by-play announcer.
By the numbers
0: Number of common opponents this season for the teams. Virginia Tech lost 45-24 to its only SEC foe, Tennessee. Arkansas did not play an ACC school.
0: Previous Belk Bowl appearances by the teams.
0: Fewest points allowed in a Belk Bowl (N.C. State, in 2005 against South Florida).
1: Number of Charlotte-area players on the two rosters. Adonis Alexander of Independence High is a sophomore linebacker for Virginia Tech.
23: Consecutive years Virginia Tech has played in a bowl, second to Florida State’s 33.
26: Biggest victory margin (Virginia, in 2002 over West Virginia).
51: Most points scored (Mississippi State, last year against N.C. State).