(5) Stanford (11-1) vs. (12) Virginia Tech (11-2)
Monday, January 3rd, 8:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 77th-annual Orange Bowl is set for January 3rd, as the ACC champion Virginia Tech Hokies square off against the Stanford Cardinal at Sun Life Stadium.
Jim Harbaugh's Cardinal finished 11-1 this season, with the lone loss coming in early October at the hands of Pac-10 champion Oregon (52-31). The Cardinal rebounded from that loss however with seven straight victories, the team's longest win streak since 1991. The team's 11 total victories and eight within conference play established new school records.
Stanford is making its second straight bowl appearance and 22nd overall, with a 9-11-1 mark in the previous postseason matchups. This is the first time the team has played in the Orange Bowl.
Frank Beamer's Hokies are making their fourth trip to the Orange Bowl, but it certainly didn't look remotely possible early on. The team dropped its first two games of the 2010 season, falling to Boise State and then to FCS foe James Madison. Beamer would rally the troops though, as Tech went on to win 11 straight games, closing out with a a big win over Florida State (44-33) in the ACC Championship Game. The strong season earned Beamer the 2010 Paterno Coaching Award for the team's performance on the field, in the classroom and the community.
Beamer is obviously a respected coach in the sport, a notion shared by many, including Paterno.
"I've always admired the job Frank Beamer has done in Blacksburg, both on the field and away from it. I've been especially impressed by his work in the community. He stands for all that's good in college sports, a great choice for this year's winner."
The Hokies are making their 18th straight bowl appearance. Tech is 9-14 all- time in postseason play following a 37-14 win over Tennessee in last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl.
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams.
The Stanford offense has been unstoppable this season, tallying a school- record 484 points (40.33 per game). It certainly came as no surprise to the followers of the program, as they believed that quarterback Andrew Luck was in store for a special season. Luck delivered in a big way, as runner-up to the Heisman Trophy. A complete package under center, Luck completed 70.2 percent of his throws for 3,051 yards and 28 TDs, with just seven INTs. He also finished second on the team with 438 rushing yards and three more scores.
Harbaugh knows there is something special about his talented signal-caller.
"When you're around him every day, you just see it. It's not hard to see. It's hard to miss, really. And then there are the other things the people don't get to see - his intangibles, how smart he is, how good his leadership skills are, his genuine humility. It's easy to see that he's going to have a bright future playing football."
Luck's top target downfield was WR Doug Baldwin, who paced the team with 56 receptions, for 824 yards and nine scores.
A balanced offense, Stanford possesses a potent ground attack to play off of Luck's passing. Tailback Stepfan Taylor has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this year, averaging almost five yards per carry, while scoring 15 of the team's 32 rushing TDs. The ground attack is enhanced by a solid offensive line, headlined by First-Team All-American center Chase Beeler.
What makes Stanford a legitimate top-10 team is the fact that the defense has played strong as well. The Cardinal finished the year yielding a mere 17.8 ppg and made plenty of big plays, with 29 forced turnovers and 28 sacks. Leading the way on this side of the football is Shayne Skov. The sophomore LB played two less games this season, but still paced the defense with 72 tackles, with 6.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Fellow LB Chase Thomas (66 tackles) is another playmaker in the middle, leading the team in TFLs (11.5) and sacks (7.5). Junior safety Delano Howell (56 tackles, four INTs) and senior CB Richard Sherman (49 tackles, four INTs) present problems for opposing QBs in the secondary.
Despite the success of the defense, coordinator Vic Fangio knows it will come down to fundamental tackling.
"The biggest thing is, How well do we tackle? Are those running backs making us miss? Are they dragging us for that extra three or four yards, or are we getting them down before that happens? How are we handling the quarterback in open spaces? Are we getting him down, or is he making us miss and turning it into a schoolyard game where he really excels? To me, it's going to come down to tackling. These guys are so talented that if we don't have our best tackling game, we could be in for a long night. It could be that they're going to score a lot of points."
The Hokies are a lot like the Cardinal in terms of offensive balance. The team comes into the Orange Bowl averaging over 200 yards per game both on the ground and through the air, leading to 35.5 ppg. The Hokies were led by their own standout QB this year, as Tyrod Taylor really blossomed under center. A dangerous dual threat, Taylor completed 60.6 percent of his throws for 2,521 yards with 23 TDs and just four INTs. He was also instrumental in the ground attack, amassing 637 rushing yards and five more scores.
Taylor led the way, but plenty of Hokies followed. The backfield is stocked with talented runners that contributed this year, led by Darren Evans (817 yards, 11 TDs), David Wilson (616 yards, five TDs) and Ryan Williams (473 yards, nine TDs).
Wideouts Jarrett Boykin (48 receptions, 763 yards, six TDs) and Danny Coale (32 receptions, 640 yards, three TDs) stood out in the receiving corps.
While not the feared unit of years past, the Hokie defense made plays when it counted most this year. The team allowed just 19.1 ppg, despite struggling against the run (148.9 ypg, 4.5 ypc). However, opposing passers had to a face a nightmare of a secondary that led the way to 22 interceptions. The team also finished with an impressive 33 sacks. Linebacker Bruce Taylor led the defensive unit with 84 tackles, including 15.5 TFLs and six sacks. Defensive end Steven Friday (64 tackles, 15.0 TFLs, 8.5 sacks) highlighted the play up front, while DBs Davon Morgan (76 tackles, five INTs), Jayron Hosley (37 tackles, eight INTs) and Rashad Carmichael (35 tackles, four INTs) dominated in the secondary. Hosley was named a Second-Team All-American thanks to his ball-hawking skills this season.
The Hokies will present some problems for Stanford on both sides of the football, but Luck will cap off a remarkable season with a thrilling win in South Florida.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Stanford 34, Virginia Tech 31
01/03 11:33:32 ET