Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Stanford-Virginia Tech Preview
In only four years, Stanford has completed a turnaround from doormat to elite team.
The reward for its hard work is a BCS bowl game against Virginia Tech -- one of the few teams in college football hotter than the Cardinal.
In a matchup pitting two of the nation's best quarterbacks, Andrew Luck leads Stanford into its first Orange Bowl on Jan. 3 to take on Tyrod Taylor and ACC champion Hokies, who will try to close their season with a 12th consecutive win.
Stanford's transformation began in 2007 when Jim Harbaugh took over a team that had gone 1-11 the previous year. The Cardinal increased their win total each of the first three seasons under the former Michigan and NFL star quarterback before going a school-record 11-1 in 2010.
Even Harbaugh has been surprised.
"I'm pretty much a historian of football, dating back 100 years," he said. "This is one of the best turnarounds I've witnessed in 50 years."
Since losing to then-No. 4 Oregon in early October, Stanford has reeled off seven straight wins, its longest run in 19 years.
"That's why this program has progressed, because guys have bought into what he's saying and what he was preaching," defensive lineman Sione Fua said of Harbaugh. "And now we're here four years later going to a BCS game."
A little bit of Luck has also helped.
Luck was a distant second to Auburn's Cam Newton in the Heisman Trophy voting, but he certainly put up stellar numbers. The Pac-10's offensive player of the year broke the single-season school record with 28 touchdown passes while helping the Cardinal average 40.3 points.
Luck has also completed more than 70 percent of his throws for 3,051 yards and rushed for 438 more, including three runs of at least 50 yards.
"With Andrew, you notice all of it because it's just amazing," said Doug Baldwin, who leads Stanford's receivers with 824 yards and nine TDs. "... You look on highlight film of the NFL and you don't see the things Andrew does at the college level."
The junior has thrown only seven interceptions, but he'll be facing one of the most opportunistic defenses in the nation. Virginia Tech is second in the FBS with 22 picks.
Luck's second-place Heisman finish was the second straight for the Cardinal after Toby Gerhart was runner-up to Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009. Stanford, though, could have a Heisman winner down the road in running back Stepfan Taylor.
The sophomore was second in the Pac-10 with 15 TDs, trailing Ducks star and Heisman finalist LaMichael James. Taylor also became the sixth Stanford running back to eclipse 1,000 yards.
While Stanford is seeking its first postseason win since blanking Michigan State in the 1996 Sun Bowl, Virginia Tech probably couldn't have envisioned reaching a BCS game after seeing its national title hopes quickly disappear.
Following a season-opening loss to Boise State, the Hokies were stunned five days later by FCS member James Madison, 21-16 in arguably the biggest upset of the year.
Frank Beamer's team hasn't lost since, defeating Florida State 44-33 on Dec. 4 to capture its third ACC title in four years.
"Those two losses we had at the beginning of the year makes these 11 wins and an ACC championship seem even greater," Beamer said.
The biggest factor in the Hokies bouncing back from the puzzling first two games to reach the Orange Bowl is Taylor.
Despite the stunningly poor start by his team, the conference player of the year finished with a school-record 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Taylor was the team's second-leading rusher with 823 yards and five scores, evoking memories of a former dual threat.
"We were fortunate to have Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. We were fortunate to have Tyrod Taylor. You get that feeling on the sideline like the next play could be a big play," Beamer said.
Taylor's top receivers are Jarrett Boykin (team highs of 763 yards and six TDs), Danny Coale (640 yards, three TDs) and tight end Andre Smith (five TDs). Darren Evans and Ryan Williams also provide punch out of the backfield -- Evans leads the Hokies with 846 yards and 11 scores while Williams has gained 525 yards with nine TDs in only nine games.
Besides leading the ACC with 58 touchdowns and 462 points, Virginia Tech became the only school in the nation to notch 10 wins in each of the last seven seasons.
That seemed highly unlikely not long ago.
"I'm just proud of the way we turned things around from an 0-2 start," Taylor said after beating Florida State.
This will be the Hokies' third Orange Bowl appearance in four years. They lost 24-21 to Kansas in 2008 and defeated Cincinnati 20-7 in 2009.