Unlike most other sports in North America, no minor league farm organizations exist in American or Canadian football. Therefore, college football is generally considered to be the second tier of American football in the United States and Canadian football in Canada; one step ahead of high school competition, and one step below professional competition. However, in some areas of the country, college football is more popular than professional football, and for much of the early 20th century, college football was seen as more prestigious than professional football.
It is in college football where a player's performance directly impacts his chances of playing professional football. The best collegiate players will typically declare for the professional draft after three to four years of collegiate competition, with the NFL holding its annual draft every spring in which 256 players are selected annually. Those not selected can still attempt to land an NFL roster spot as an undrafted free agent.
The Virginia Tech Hokies earned a bid to the Independence Bowl following an 8–3 record during the 1984-1985 football season. Tech was the No. 3 team in the country in terms of overall defense and No. 2 in terms of rushing defense, due to the efforts of Tech defender Bruce Smith, an All-American and Outland Trophy winner who would later go on to be the first-overall selection in the 1985 NFL Draft. Smith became the centerpiece of an eligibility debate during the weeks prior to the game, as he was at first prohibited from participating in the game by the NCAA, which had placed him under probation for accepting illegal gifts. Smith contested this probation in Virginia and Louisiana courts, and was allowed to play in the game by virtue of two court actions.
The game kicked off under comfortable temperatures and moderate wind. An estimated 41,100 people came out to watch the Falcons take on the Hokies. Air Force scored first with a 35-yard field goal, but the Hokies struck back with a touchdown off a 10-play, 72-yard drive, putting Virginia Tech ahead 7–3. That score would remain until halfway through the second quarter, when Virginia Tech fumbled the ball at its own three-yard line. Air Force recovered the ball and scored a touchdown on the next play, regaining a 10–7 lead. After halftime, Virginia Tech's defense began to break down under Air Force's rushing offense. The Hokies and Air Force battled defensively throughout the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter, Air Force's offense broke free for 13 unanswered points, clinching the victory. Air Force quarterback Bart Weiss was named the game's most valuable player on offense, while Virginia Tech linebacker Vince Daniels was named the game's most valuable player on defense.