MIAMI — The Orange Bowl will be a matchup of turnaround teams — Stanford vs. Virginia Tech.
Stanford earned a bid Sunday to face the Hokies in the BCS bowl on Jan. 3. The berth caps a remarkable resurgence for the fifth-ranked Cardinal, who have gone from 1-11 to 11-1 in four years.
“I’m pretty much a historian of football, dating back 100 years,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “This is one of the best turnarounds I’ve witnessed in 50 years — what our youngsters have been able to accomplish. I’m very proud of them.”
Virginia Tech is on the rise, too. After stumbling at the start this season, the Hokies (11-2) have won 11 consecutive games, including a 44-33 victory Saturday over Florida State for their third Atlantic Coast Conference title in four years.
“We’re fortunate we have some kids with good character, because I think it takes that to come back from two devastating losses with such high hopes going into the season,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
The game will be the first between the two schools, and the first in the Orange Bowl between ACC and Pac-10 Conference teams. Stanford will play in the Orange Bowl for the first time, while Virginia Tech is 1-2 in the game.
Under the BCS format, the ACC winner earns a spot in the Orange Bowl. Until Sunday night, it was uncertain where Stanford was headed. The Cardinal finished fourth in the BCS standings, and the top four teams are assured of bids to BCS games.
“It’s great to be a part of this change that has occurred, this culture change, this transformation of our team,” receiver Ryan Whalen said.
Stanford’s 11 wins overall and eight in the Pac-10 are school records.
“Coming to a place like Stanford, there are always people who say you can’t win big-time football because you are too smart; you can’t get the players; you have requirements, and can’t get in a lot of the players that other guys have,” defensive lineman Sione Fua said. “It goes to show that if you put in the hard work and the time and get the right guys together with the right coaching, you can accomplish anything.”
Both teams rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring offense and defense, and the game will be a matchup of standout quarterbacks. Stanford’s Andrew Luck is one of the top pro prospects in the country, and Tech’s Tyrod Taylor is the ACC player of the year.
Luck broke the Stanford record of 27 touchdown passes in a season held by John Elway and Steve Stenstrom.
“I haven’t seen a lot of Andrew Luck,” Beamer said. “But I’ve heard a lot about him. I think he’s going to be real high in that Heisman race. And I think we’ve got a quarterback, had we not lost the first two games, maybe his name would be mentioned in that regard a little bit more, because he has certainly played great.”
Taylor, who draws comparisons to Michael Vick, threw for three touchdowns and ran for another against Florida State. Taylor has thrown 23 scoring passes, one more than Maurice DeShazo’s old school record.
Tech’s hopes of contending for the national title were dashed in a five-day span at the start of the season. The Hokies lost to Boise State and endured a stunning home upset against lower-tier James Madison.
They regrouped to enjoy the kind of year that has become common under Beamer. The Hokies have won four ACC titles since joining the league in 2004, and they’re the only team in the country to win 10 games each of the past seven seasons.
Stanford’s improvement has been steady since Harbaugh took over in 2007. His team won four games that year and five in 2008.
Last season the Cardinal won eight games and made it to the Sun Bowl, their first bowl since 2001. This season their lone loss was to unbeaten Oregon.
Harbaugh said he promised such rapid progress the first time he met with his players.
“When you’re talking to them in your first team meeting when they’ve come off a 1-11 season, and you tell them if they stick with it, within four years we’re going to play in a BCS bowl game, and ask them to believe it, that’s the definition of faith,” Harbaugh said. “And they did. The proof in their work has been in what they’ve accomplished.”