Pac-12: Ryan Williams

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

December, 5, 2010
12/05/10
11:51
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Stanford Cardinal (11-1) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2

Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Stanford take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: The big question for Stanford in the preseason was how would the Cardinal do without Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. The answer quickly came: Pretty darn well.

Stanford finished 11-1 because quarterback Andrew Luck looked every bit like the No. 1 overall pick in this spring's NFL draft, the running game was nearly as good as it was with Gerhart and the defense was significantly improved. That Stanford ranks eighth in the nation in scoring should be no surprise. But the defense ranking 11th in the nation in scoring is why the Cardinal are playing in the Discover Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. That defense has pitched three shutouts and seemed to improve under first-year coordinator Vic Fangio as the year went on.

Stanford rolled through its early schedule until it got hammered at Oregon 52-31. That loss seemed to suggest that the Cardinal still lack the overall team speed to play with the elite programs. But that would be their final loss. They played a couple of tight games with USC and Arizona State, and they dominated Arizona before winning their final two games over California and Oregon State by a combined count of 86-14.

What is most notable about Stanford is how it’s taken on coach Jim Harbaugh's tough-guy image. It's an extremely physical team, particularly on an offensive line that ranks among the best in the nation.


Virginia Tech take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Despite their current 11-game winning streak, the ACC champions still feel like they have something to prove after an 0-2 start. The Hokies will have an ideal chance to silence any remaining doubters with their matchup against Stanford, one of the best one-loss teams in the country. The ACC, which is 2-10 in its BCS bowls, needs the Hokies to represent well.

Virginia Tech will once again rely on the ACC’s Player of the Year, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and a defense that has 14 interceptions in the past six games. Even with two starting linebackers sidelined with stingers in the ACC championship game and starting corner Rashad Carmichael out for most of the game with an ankle injury, Virginia Tech found a way to pressure FSU backup quarterback E.J. Manuel into mistakes. The Hokies will look to do the same against Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, a Heisman contender. Luck leads an offense that averages over 40 points and 200 rushing yards per game -- a challenge for Bud Foster’s defense, which has been average against the run this year. Stanford’s rushing defense has been better, and the Hokies will need all three of their running backs -- Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson -- to contribute.

Showtime for Oregon, LaMichael James?

October, 21, 2010
10/21/10
7:44
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EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon wants to put on a show tonight against UCLA in order to impress the nation and further validate its national-title contention.

And if the Ducks put on a big show, expect the star to be running back LaMichael James, who can further validate his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

James is the nation's best big-play running back. ESPN Stats & Information, in fact, can prove that, as the chart at right shows.

Since 2009, James has gained 20 yards or more on more than nine percent of his carries, which is the highest percentage among running backs in the FBS in that time frame.

This season, Oregon has 21 rushes of 20 yards or more. The Ducks hit a big run more often than any other team in the country outside of Taylor Martinez and Nebraska.

So, of course, you can expect the UCLA defense to be keying on James. The Bruins might even dare quarterback Darron Thomas to beat them passing, particularly with Thomas coming back from a sprained shoulder that knocked him out of the Washington State game two weeks ago.

But that might not be too wise, because Thomas is at his best going deep in the play-action passing game as the chart at right shows.

So the Bruins have to be smart on defense and mix things up. They can't crowd the line of scrimmage to stop James and the spread-option. And they can't forget Thomas over the top in play-action.

Rodgers, Gerhart are Doak Walker semifinalists

November, 12, 2009
11/12/09
12:11
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Stanford's Toby Gerhart and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers are among the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, which is given annually to the nation's best running back.

Three finalists for the award will be named on Nov. 23, and a second vote by the Doak Walker Award National Selection Committee will determine the recipient. The winner will be announced live on The Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards on Dec. 10.

The award is named after three-time SMU All-American running back and 1948 Heisman Trophy winner Doak Walker.

Besides Gerhart and Rodgers, the other semifinalists are (in alphabetical order): Donald Buckram of UTEP, Jonathan Dwyer of Georgia Tech, Mark Ingram of Alabama, Dion Lewis of Pitt, Ryan Mathews of Fresno State, C.J. Spiller of Clemson, Ben Tate of Auburn and Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech.

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