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December 31, 2008

SCS.comThe 75th edition of the Orange Bowl, featuring Virginia Tech and Cincinnati, caps off a New Yearís Day packed full of collegiate football action. Virginia Tech will be looking to end an eight game BCS losing streak for the ACC and to rebound after losing 24-21 to Kansas in last yearís Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is focused on extending the Big Eastís BCS winning streak to four and to build upon the prior success of Louisville and West Virginia. This game features an additional level of interest due to the fact that Virginia Tech abruptly left the Big East in 2004 and joined the ACC, leaving bitter feelings behind still to this day. These two leagues have established an intense rivalry as the current Big East members always take great pride in defeating their old conference members. In regards to these two programs, Cincinnati is looking to make a statement about the vastly improved state of their program with a win, while Virginia Tech is focused on ending their season on a high note in what appeared to be a rebuilding season when the year began. Time for an in-depth preview of the Orange Bowl and the key aspects to focus on in this battle of league champions.

ORANGE BOWL - Cincinnati vs Virginia Tech
January 2 - 7:30 PM CST FOX TV - Miami, FL

The matchup...

Cincinnati travels to Miami after completing an 11-2 regular season which included a 6-1 record in the Big East. The Bearcats enter the Orange Bowl as champions of the Big East and make their first ever appearance in a Bowl Championship Series game. Cincinnati has emerged as a powerhouse within the conference following a second consecutive 10-win season after having only one 10-win season in the schools football history prior to last year. The Bearcats are 6-4 all-time in bowl games, and have won three straight, as they prepare to play for the first time on January 1st since the 1951 Sun Bowl. This will be the second meeting with Virginia Tech in the post-season with the initial meeting resulting in an 18-6 Cincinnati victory in the 1947 Sun Bowl.
Virginia Tech earned a second consecutive ACC championship and will represent the league in back-to-back years in the Orange Bowl. The Hokies completed their season at 9-4 overall and 5-3 within the league to earn the Coastal Division championship before defeating Boston College by a 30-12 score to claim the league crown. The trip to Miami will be Virginia Techís third time competing in the Orange Bowl with prior appearances in 1996 and 2008. A win by the Hokies in this game will clinch a fifth consecutive 10-win season for Virginia Tech, matching Texas and Southern Cal as the only schools to maintain such an impressive streak. These two programs have met eight times in their history with each team claiming four wins apiece, with Tech winning the last game by a 29-13 score in 2006.

When Cincinnati has the ball...

The Bearcats rely heavily on their passing attack, which ranks 24th in the nation and is generating 254 yards per game. The fact that the Cincinnati aerial game has been so productive this season is impressive due to the fact that the Bearcats suffered numerous injuries at the quarterback position and the current starter Tony Pike was not listed on the depth chart entering fall practice. Pike had a strong season, throwing for 2,168 yards in eleven games and tossing 18 touchdown passes versus 7 interceptions. Assisting Pike in reaching his stellar numbers are his two star receivers in Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard, who combined for 152 receptions, 2,095 yards and 17 touchdowns. Goodman also owns the school record for career touchdowns with 22 and was named 2nd team all Big-East while Gilyard was named to the 1st team. Challenging the Cincinnati passing game will be a stout Virginia Tech pass defense that ranks 14th in the nation and yields only 170 yards per game in the air, led by star cornerback Victor Harris.
The Bearcats would like to gain additional production out of their running game, after they finished the season ranked 94th in the nation while generating only 121 yards per game. Cincinnati features two running backs in Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel who together combined for 1,211 yards and nine touchdowns. Expect these two backs to get the majority of the carries in this game but keep an eye on freshman Isaiah Pead, a nice change of pace back who averaged 6.6 yards per carry. The Bearcat trio of backs will find it tough going against a Hokie defense that allows only 107 yards per game on the ground to rank 19th in the nation. Leading the Tech rush defense is a strong defensive line, highlighted by ACC 2nd team members, defensive endís Orion Martin and Jason Worilds, who both can wreak havoc in the oppositionís backfield.

When Virginia Tech has the ball...

Tech has struggled this season to develop a consistent offense as the Hokies rank 89th in the nation in scoring offense, generating only 22 points per game. The Hokies have been unable to complement their strong running game with a legitimate threat in the passing game. Currently leading the Tech offense at quarterback is Tyrod Taylor, who threw for 896 yards on the season and two touchdowns after taking over for the previous starter, Sean Glennon. Expect to see Glennon play in the Orange Bowl as he completes his career ranked in the top ten in Virginia Tech history in both total offense and passing yards. The leading receiver for the Hokies is freshman Jarrett Boykin, who caught 28 passes for 413 yards and two touchdowns, the only receptions for touchdowns recorded by a receiver. On defense for Cincinnati, the Bearcats will yield yardage through the air and they will need a strong effort from their powerful defensive line, led by Connor Barwin, to keep pressure on the Tech quarterback duo.
The strength of the Hokie offense is their running game which generates 168 yards per game and is led by Darren Evans. After the loss of starter Kenny Lewis, Evans took over the starting assignment and ran for 1,112 yards and ten touchdowns on the season to set a freshman yardage record and to earn a spot on the ACC 2nd team. The second leading rusher for the Hokies is Tyrod Taylor, who ran for 691 yards and six touchdowns as the second option in the Tech backfield. Expect to see Tech keep the ball on the ground as much as possible with Evans getting plenty of opportunity to carry the offensive load. Challenging the Tech ground game will be a stout Bearcat defense that ranks 13th in the nation in rush defense and only gives up 104 yards per game. Cincinnati features ten senior starters on an attacking and aggressive defense that will look to overwhelm the young Tech offensive unit.

Star watch...

The stars of the Orange Bowl are focused on the defensive side of the football, led by Tech cornerback Victor Harris. The star Hokie cornerback led the team with six interceptions and he has 15 in his career, third most all-time in school history. The Bearcats also feature a star cornerback of their own in Mike Mickens, who is the schoolís career leader with 14 interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. Providing a pass rushing presence for Cincinnati is defensive end Connor Barwin, who totaled 11 sacks on the season to lead the Big East. On offense the best players are Cincinnati wide-outs Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman and Virginia Techís running back Darren Evans. Goodman needs only nine receptions to become the Big Eastís all-time leading receiver while Gilyard set Cincinnatiís single season yardage mark. Evans is the key component on the Tech offense and he holds the schoolís single game rushing record after a 253 yard effort versus Maryland.

Deciding factor...

The two offensive game plans will vary greatly as the Hokies will focus on keeping the ball on the ground while Cincinnati goes through the air. To be successful Virginia Tech must gain significant yardage on the ground because the passing game is not productive enough to carry the offense. If the Cincinnati star-studded defensive line can contain Evans and Taylor from churning out huge chunks of yardage on the ground, the Hokies will have great trouble in moving the ball. On the opposite side of the ball, Cincinnati is likely to have little success on the ground so the Bearcats will need a huge effort out of Tony Pike. The Bearcats offensive line will have their hands full with a brutal Hokie pass rush that could cause major problems for the Cincinnati passing game. In the end, whichever team better establishes their strength on offense will gain the upper-hand and become the favorite to emerge victorious as champions of the Orange Bowl.
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