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NCF Nation: 2011 Orange Bowl preview

A matchup between two blue-collar teams awaits in the Discover Orange Bowl on Monday night from South Florida. Virginia Tech has been in BCS games before. Stanford not so much. But this has been a special season for the Cardinal. They have won a school-record 11 games and seven straight -- their longest winning streak since 1991. Two big questions surround the Cardinal heading into this game -- will coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck return next season? Much speculation has centered around Harbaugh, whose name has surfaced repeatedly in places other than The Farm.

WHO TO WATCH: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. It's not a surprise he is the player to watch. The Heisman finalist became the first sophomore in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards this season. He also set the single-season record for touchdown passes with 28. His two-year totals are incredible -- 5,626 yards and 41 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 24 career games. In his past seven games, Luck has completed 76 percent of his passes for 1,792 yards and 15 touchdowns. There is no question Virginia Tech is going to have to slow him down to have any shot at winning the game. Owen Marecic is another player to watch. He starts at fullback and inside linebacker. Talk about a throwback player. Marecic has four touchdowns and 45 tackles this season.

WHAT TO WATCH: Stanford run defense vs. Virginia Tech's triple-threat. The Hokies present problems with their depth at running back, even with David Wilson suspended for the first quarter for missing a team curfew. They have the No. 18 rushing offense in the country, averaging 208.9 yards per game behind Wilson, Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Williams has practiced sparingly this week but is expected to play. The first priority for Stanford will be to slow down the run. The Cardinal rank No. 24 in the nation in rushing defense. Watch for Chase Thomas, who leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss.

WHY WATCH: It’s not often folks on the East Coast get to watch Stanford play. This has been one of the best seasons in school history, and could be the finale for Harbaugh and Luck. But more than anything, Stanford is a fun team to watch because of its versatility on offense and its smashmouth defense. Play a fun game as you watch and count how many different offensive styles Stanford ends up running.

PREDICTION: Stanford 37, Virginia Tech 24. The Cardinal have the edge at quarterback and present a more balanced attack because of that. It’s going to be hard for Virginia Tech to keep pace with an offense that has averaged 40 points a game.

Discover Orange Bowl preview

January, 2, 2011
1/02/11
1:00
PM ET
This is the big one for the ACC, a chance for Virginia Tech and the conference to make a statement on the national stage against the No. 4 team in the country. Virginia Tech enters this game with an all-time record of 1-26 against teams ranked in the top 5 of the AP poll, and the Hokies are 0-22 in such games away from Blacksburg, Va.

This is Stanford’s first Orange Bowl appearance and second BCS bowl appearance. At 11-1, Stanford is trying to finish a season with as few as one loss for the first time since 1940 (10-0). The Cardinal have already set a school record for most wins in a season. There’s plenty to play for in the Discover Orange Bowl. Here’s a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Stanford’s Andrew Luck is a projected first-round NFL draft pick, and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor was the ACC’s Player of the Year after leading the Hokies on an 11-game winning streak. They’re major reasons why their teams are ranked among the top 20 in the country in scoring offense. Both have been invaluable to their respective teams, both have given defenses fits, and both are too good to miss.

WHAT TO WATCH: Virginia Tech’s secondary against Stanford’s receivers. Cornerbacks Jayron Hosley and Rashad Carmichael will have to win their matchups, especially when safeties Davon Morgan and Eddie Whitley line up closer to the box. Stanford receiver Doug Baldwin is one of Luck’s top targets, and Carmichael will be tasked with disrupting that connection. The Hokies’ pass efficiency defense is No. 8 in the country, while Stanford is No. 7 in passing efficiency.

WHY WATCH: These programs have gone on remarkable runs this season and come a long way. Stanford made a turnaround from 1-11 in 2006 to a school-record 11-1 this year. Virginia Tech made a turnaround from its 0-2 start to win 11 straight and become the first team to go undefeated in ACC play since Florida State in 2000. Both have an opportunity to finish the season with unprecedented success.

PREDICTION: Stanford 35, Virginia Tech 31. The difference in this game will be Stanford’s ability to run the ball. If there has been one weakness in the Hokies’ defense this year, it’s been at linebacker, where injuries and youth have provided some bumps. Virginia Tech’s run defense has been average, but when the Hokies dare to load the box, Luck can beat them with his arm.

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