Contrasting Storylines Carry Teams into Orange Bowl

Stanford is making their second bowl trip in a row, but only their second since 2001.  For Virginia Tech, bowls are nothing new as the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl is their 18th consecutive trip to a postseason game.  That streak, which is matched only by Florida and Florida State, includes appearances in three of the last four Orange Bowls.

The 11-2 Hokies are so familiar with playing their season finale game in Miami Gardens that the team is beginning to resemble their bowl hosts.  They will be breaking out brand new orange helmets for the 77th edition of the Orange Bowl.

“It is going to be a great feeling,” said senior tight end Andre Smith. “Just to be part of a program [like Virginia Tech] that has been so successful and to be able to come back to a great bowl like [the Discover Orange Bowl] over and over, there is no explanation of that; just a great feeling of success and excitement. Again, this is one of the best bowls in the country and we are glad to be here.”

While Virginia Tech brings along the consistency of their record bowl streak and their coach of 24 years, Frank Beamer, 11-1 Stanford has reemerged as of late under Jim Harbaugh.  The team ranked fourth in the BCS has their highest Associated Press position since 1970.  With quick success have come questions of permanence for the Cardinal coach now in his fourth season.

People doubt whether one of the nations’ fast risers in Harbaugh will stick around over the long haul.  The rumors have run rampant from him accepting the top job at his alma mater Michigan to heading down the road to coach the NFL’s 49ers.

The Woody Hayes Coach of the Year denies speculation over his job leading to any concern among his team.

“The only time it gets asked is if I’m doing a talk-back radio show or talking to the media or the press, but really it’s not much of a distraction. When you’re playing Virginia Tech that gives you plenty to focus on.”

Harbaugh is not the only one associated with Stanford football that has an uncertain future.  His Heisman finalist quarterback, redshirt sophomore Andrew Luck could very well be the number one overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft.  Luck has made allusions that he intends to return for at least one more season.

“You know, we’ve seen some really good quarterbacks, but I think Andrew to be honest with you right now may be physically the most mature kid we’ve seen,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.  “We played Peyton Manning when Peyton was a freshman at the time, and we played Aaron Rodgers, but I think this kid, from a physical standpoint, is ahead of the game from a physical standpoint.”

On the other side of the field, there is no doubt that this will be senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s last game in a Hokie jersey.  This year’s ACC Player of the Year is likely to go down as one of the greatest performers in Virginia Tech history after setting program records for career total offense, passing yards, and wins for a quarterback.

After being named the MVP in the 44-33 ACC Championship win over Florida State, Taylor wants to cement his legacy with a third career bowl victory.

“[Taylor] can take a broken play and take it for a touchdown,” said Stanford second team All-Pac-10 nose guard Sione Fua.  “As a D-lineman, it’s a lot better to play someone who sits back in the pocket.  We’ll have our hands full with their quarterback, but we’re going to be ready to go.”

Outside of the 823 yards Taylor gained on the ground this year, Stanford may have an even tougher assignment identifying and containing the Hokies three headed running back attack.  Junior Darren Evans, sophomore Ryan Williams, and sophomore David Wilson combined for 2010 yards and 25 touchdowns this year.

Wilson, who also returns kicks, will miss the first quarter along with safety Antone Exum for violating team curfew.

“I think [our running backs] are all good,” said Beamer.  “They are different, but I think all of them have a future in the NFL.  I think you talk about each one of them, not any one of them is the same, but I think that is a good thing.  I think it is different back coming in from who is in the ball game and it is different from the last one that was in there in certain ways. I think that is a good thing.”

With each team coming into Monday night boasting top 20 offenses and defenses nationally, a close matchup is expected.  Despite that common tie, the differences in these programs are as pronounced as the distance from Palo Alto to Blacksburg.

You can catch the Discover Orange Bowl Monday night on ESPN 1080 the Team.  Calling the action will be ESPN Radio’s Bill Rosinski and David Norrie with Joe Schaad on the sidelines. 

News & Notes

  • Three players were a part of the 2011 Orange Bowl Hall of Fame induction class.  Miami safety Bennie Blades, Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks, and Nebraska center Dave Rimington were honored on Friday at the AvMed Orange Bowl Coaches Luncheon.
  • This is the first meeting of Pac-10 and ACC schools in the 77 year history of the Orange Bowl.  In fact, a Pac-10 team has only played in the game on three occasions.  Virginia Tech and Stanford are also facing off against one another for the first time.
  • The first ever Orange Bowl game took place on January 1, 1935.  Bucknell defeated Miami 26-0.   An Associated Press photograph from the game became the first wire photo sent across the United States