Virginia Tech to face Stanford in the Orange Bowl
After winning its fourth ACC title in seven years Saturday night in Charlotte, the Virginia Tech football team was rewarded Sunday night with just the sort of matchup it wanted in next month's Orange Bowl. Though some thought the Hokies opponent might be Big East champion Connecticut, bowl officials gave Stanford, ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings, an at-large bid instead.
"Certainly Connecticut would have been an excellent opponent, what they’ve been able to accomplish, but I think in the end, in these situations you do want to play the highest-ranked team and it has the makings of a great football game," Coach Frank Beamer said Sunday night.
This will be Virginia Tech's third trip to the Orange Bowl in four years. For Stanford, this will be just its second-ever appearance in a BCS bowl, and the Cardinal's first time in the Orange Bowl.
One of the main reasons the Orange Bowl considered selecting the Big East champion were fears that Stanford's fan base wouldn't travel well cross-country to Miami. Coach Jim Harbaugh played down that Sunday night, saying Stanford has a national alumni base, but he didn't discount it either.
"We'll have very supportive fans," Harbaugh said. "I don’t know if we’ll bring as many as Virginia Tech. There might be more Hokies fans than Stanford fans. The thing we’re gonna have to do is pack our defense, make sure that they’re packed for the trip because that’s what it’s gonna take that far away from home. It could be a pretty hostile environment for us."
The Cardinal have gone from 1-11 to 11-1 in just four seasons, and as a result, Harbaugh has been rumored for several other jobs. As you're probably well aware of now, the Hokies have authored their own story of redemption, winning 11 straight games since beginning this season 0-2.
One of the big reasons these two teams will meet are its quarterbacks, a story line that will likely dominate the build-up to this game. Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor holds just about every quarterback record at Virginia Tech and is coming off a senior season in which he was named ACC player of the year, ACC championship game MVP and set a single season school record for passing touchdowns with 23.
Stanford, meanwhile, has a signal caller many experts believe will be the top pick in this spring's NFL Draft. Junior Andrew Luck had 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and threw for more than 3,000 yards this year. His 165.96 passer rating is the seventh-best in the country.
Harbaugh said Sunday he was "nervous" about facing Taylor, but offered this praise for his own quarterback.
"I think when Coach Beamer sees Andrew Luck, he’ll be as nervous as I am," Harbaugh said. "Andrew is the real deal. He’s the best football player that I’ve ever been around -- played with on a team or coached -- and he’s even a finer young man. There’s nothing about him that I would say, 'I wish he could do this or I wish he could do that or wish he didn’t do this or didn’t do that.' He’s just like my wife. He’s perfect. That’s exactly the way they are. It’s a real blessing when you’re a coach and you have a wife and a quarterback and you wouldn’t change anything about them.”
Added Beamer: “I haven’t seen a lot of Andrew Luck. I’ve heard a lot about him and I’ve heard a lot of people that know talk about him. He’s gonna be real high on that Heisman as well. And I think we’ve got a quarterback that had we not lost the first two or only lost the first one, maybe his name would be in that regard a little bit more because he’s certainly played great.”
Taylor and many of Virginia Tech's players were given a standing ovation at halftime of Sunday night's men's basketball game against Virginia, with Queen's "We Are the Champions" playing in the background.
But Taylor and company admitted Saturday after defeating Florida State in the ACC championship game that though their comeback this season has been remarkable, it wouldn't be complete without an Orange Bowl victory.
After those two losses to start the year, the Hokies will finally get another shot to redeem themselves on the national stage. That's why there seemed to be a sense of relief that the opponent would be Stanford, a highly regarded team that will allow Virginia Tech to prove once and for all whether this year's team really was one of the country's best.
"It’s got the making of a great football game and we’re gonna sure try to hold up our end of the bargain on that," Beamer said. "I think this is a very attractive game for Virginia Tech and I feel like a lot of Virginia Tech will show up."
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