College football is American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges, and military academies, or Canadian football played by teams of student athletes fielded by Canadian universities. It was through college football play that American football rules first gained popularity in the United States.
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.
Virginia Tech entered the game headed by star quarterback Michael Vick, who led the Hokies to a 10–1 regular season record despite being injured for a part of the season. Clemson entered the game with a regular-season record of 9–2 under the command of head coach Tommy Bowden, who was in the second year of his tenure. The contest featured two high-scoring offenses that emphasized different aspects of the game. These aspects were exemplified in the game, which saw Clemson pass for more yards than Virginia Tech, while the Hokies ran for more yards than the Tigers.
Virginia Tech jumped out to an early lead and maintained it throughout the game. Vick had a 23-yard touchdown run on the game's opening drive, then helped the Hokies expand their lead to 14–0 by the end of the first quarter. The Tigers narrowed Tech's lead to 14–10 in the second quarter, but the Hokies scored another touchdown before halftime and went into the second half with a 21–10 lead. Injuries knocked Clemson's two leading running backs out of the game, and starting Clemson quarterback Woodrow Dantzler was removed from the game after he proved ineffective against the Virginia Tech defense. Despite these changes, the Tigers were unable to reduce Virginia Tech's lead, which stood at 34–13 at the end of the third quarter. A late Clemson touchdown moved the Tigers within two touchdowns, but Virginia Tech answered with a touchdown of its own, making the final score 41–20.
In recognition of his performance in leading his team to a victory, Vick was named the game's most valuable player. It was his final collegiate game, and four months after the Gator Bowl, he was selected with the first overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft. A handful of other players who participated in the Gator Bowl also were selected in the draft.