This Orange Bowl matchup is a little disappointing to me. Not because there’s anything wrong with the matchup – I think it will be a very good game – but these were two under-appreciated teams that I liked all year. Stanford finished 11-1 (only losing on the road to #1 Oregon) and have the best quarterback in the nation in Andrew Luck, yet they’ve been tragically undervalued all year. They finished 4-0-1 against the spread in their last five games and those four weren’t even close – they beat Washington 41-0 (favored by 7), Arizona 42-17 (favored by 7.5), Cal 48-14 (favored by 6.5) and Oregon State 38-0 (favored by 14). They were unfortunate to have to play the Ducks on the road this year; if that game was in Palo Alto, there’s a very good chance Stanford is in the national championship game. I can’t help but think that if the Cardinal’s jerseys said “USC” on them, they wouldn’t be nearly as disrespected. Luck leads one of the best offenses in the country and the Cardinal defense – which was shaky early in the season in giving up 52 points to Oregon and 35 to USC – buckled down at the end of the season, giving up only 45 points in their last five games combined.
Meanwhile, the Hokies have quietly put together a very good season following the early debacle against James Madison. Like Stanford, they’ve been undervalued all year. Whereas Stanford has been hurt by the name on their jerseys, Virginia Tech has been hurt by that one game against James Madison. The Hokies won their last 11 games and covered the spread in 10 of those games. Only Georgia Tech (14 point underdogs) lost to the Hokies by single digits (28-21). Although the Hokies’ defense is slightly below their typical very-high standard (giving up 33 points to Florida State backup E.J. Manuel!), they are still much better than average. And notoriously unpredictable QB Tyrod Taylor has been fantastic this season after the shaky start.
All this is to say it’s unfortunate that the Cardinal and Hokies are playing against each other: I would pick either to beat any other team in the BCS not named Auburn or Oregon. I’d typically pick the Pac-10 team over the ACC without thinking twice because of the quality of competition, but the Pac-10 has been outrageously bad this year.* Virginia Tech’s competition tells us something though – the two best quarterbacks that the Hokies faced were Boise’s Kellen Moore and NC State’s Russell Wilson. In those two games, the Hokies gave up 33 and 30 points (although they did pick off Wilson three times). Luck is better than both Moore and Wilson and I’d guess that the Hokies will struggle to contain him.
* Quick trivia question: which conference has the worst record in the BCS? It’s not the Big East – that’d be way too easy and not deserving of an asterisk at all. No, it’s the ACC – by far. ACC teams have gone 2-10 since the BCS was created in 1998 (Florida State beat then-Big East member Virginia Tech in the 2000 championship game and Virginia Tech beat Cincinnati in the 2009 Orange Bowl). Incidentally, the Big East (6-7) actually has a better BCS winning percentage than the Big 12 (8-10) and Big Ten (10-12), although the latter two conferences obviously played stronger opponents. The SEC has faired the best at 14-5 while the Pac-10 is 8-5.
On the other side, the Hokies have the sometimes dynamic but always terrifying Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. The ninth or tenth-year senior (I forget how long exactly he’s been there, but I’m pretty sure it’s been the entire decade) has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Hokies fans for his tenure as Virginia Tech’s quarterback. After passing for 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions combined in his first three years, Taylor has stepped it up with 23 touchdown passes against only 4 interceptions and a career-high 60.6% completion rate. Taylor has been especially terrific in his last eight games, throwing for 15 TD passes (including three games of three TD passes each) and only one interception.
All things considered, we have two great offenses and two good defenses. I expect both quarterbacks to perform well so it comes down to a tiebreaker question: of the following two statements, which makes me feel more comfortable?:
A. “And Stanford will get the ball back with two minutes left down by four with no timeouts left. Let’s see if Andrew Luck can work some magic.”
B. “And Virginia Tech will get the ball back with two minutes left down by four with no timeouts left. Let’s see if Tyrod Taylor can work some magic.”
Yeah, I just can’t shake my Taylor fears. Stanford wins 34-27.