It didn't take long for this season to look like a nightmare for Virginia Tech.
After a close victory over East Carolina to open the year, the Hokies were embarrassed 48-7 on national television at number two LSU. The Hokies would go on to win their next five games, climbing into the number eight spot before another TV debacle.
The Hokie defense dominated the first 55 minutes of the game, only to have Boston College's Matt Ryan put up his "Heisman moment", throwing for two late scores for a 14-10 victory. But the season turned as Virginia Tech (11-2 8-1) rallied to win its final five games and the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
A big part of the season end improvement was the play of the offense. Switching to a two-quarterback system the final four games, Virginia Tech put up 30 or more points in each game, including a 30-16 win in a BC rematch in the ACC title game.
At first glance, the quarterbacks would seem to be separated by ability type. Junior Sean Glennon (6-foot-4 225 pounds) is the prototypical pocket passer, while true freshman Tyrod Taylor (6-1 220), who runs a 4.39 40-yard dash, is the dual-threat player. But Glennon does have some running ability to go with his efficiency – he completed 63 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions – and Taylor has the arm and touch to be dangerous in the passing game.
Taylor has more than 1,300 total yards and 15 touchdowns on the year and is the toughest to defend. His style reminds some Tech fans of Michael Vick, though Taylor shows more pure passing ability than Vick had at the same age.
The top running back, Brandon Ore (5-11 205), is finishing up a disappointing season where he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry on his way to 876 yards and nine total touchdowns. Last year, Ore led the ACC in All-Purpose yards and provided a reliable ground game to pair with the Hokies' tough defense. He'll miss the first quarter of the Orange Bowl for arriving late to a team practice. Kenny Lewis Jr. (5-9 205), who averaged 3.5 yards per carry and put up four touchdowns, will serve as Ore's replacement early. Carlton Weatherford (5-10 230) mans the fullback position.
The Hokies have four good wide receivers with sub-4.4 speed. Split end Justin Harper (6-4 214) led Tech with 571 receiving yards and at one point signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Winthrop. The other split end is Josh Morgan (6-1 220), who is known for both his power and his athleticism. He has 522 yards and five touchdowns on the year. Eddie Royal (5-10 180) and Josh Hyman (5-11 190), smaller receivers with a lot of quickness, play the flanker spot. Both are big-play guys, especially Royal, a do-it-all type who has 111 rushing yards to go with his 485 yards and four touchdowns receiving.
Greg Boone (6-3 291) and Andre Smith (6-4 245) make up the tight end position for the Hokies. The duo has combined for 15 catches and more than 200 yards receiving.
The Hokie offensive line has been decimated by injuries this year, allowing 49 sacks and struggling to provide a strong running game. But heading into the Orange Bowl, the unit is finally healthy. Virginia Tech likes to use a six-player rotation with one player, redshirt freshman Richard Graham, serving as a utility player. Graham started six games at left guard this year.
The leader of the line is probably left tackle Duane Brown (6-5 308), an All-ACC second team pick. The former tight end has started 39 games in his career. He's next to massive left guard Nick Marshman (6-5 357), who moved over from right tackle. Center Ryan Shuman (6-3 314) and right guard Sergio Render (6-4 310), a first team Freshman All-America last year, make up the rest of the interior line. Ed Wang (6-5 312), who played last season at 268 pounds, plays the right tackle spot.
While the offense has improved, the defense has been a constant for Virginia Tech. Packed with talent and athleticism, the Hokies have allowed just 15.5 points and under 294 yards per game. They've been stout against both the run and the pass, allowing 86 yards per game on the ground while sacking opposing quarterbacks 43 times and picking them off another 21 times. Virginia Tech has also recovered nine fumbles.
Like most great defenses, the Hokies typically win the battle in the trenches. The Hokies rotate four players at defensive end, led by defensive end Chris Ellis (6-5 267). Ellis collected first team All-ACC honors after recording 49 tackles, including nine in the backfield and 8.5 sacks, along with 38 hurries. He's opposite Orion Martin (6-2 256), a former walk on who collected 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Jason Worilds (6-2 257) and former linebacker Nekos Brown (6-2 253) combined for 38 tackles, eight for loss and 4.5 sacks.
The Hokies also use a four-man rotation at defensive tackle. The star here is Barry Booker (6-4 290), an All-ACC second team selection after with 10.5 tackles for loss. He's paired with DT Carlton Powell (6-2 293) who had six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. John Graves (6-3 279) and Kory Robertson (6-2 342) also rotate through and supply depth.
Inside linebackers Vince Hall (6-0 238) and Xavier Adibi (6-2 236) make up one of the top linebacker duos in the country. But Hall, who missed four games with a wrist injury this year, injured his knee leading up to the Orange Bowl and is listed as a game-time decision. In nine games this year, Hall racked up 92 tackles, 6.5 in the backfield and 3.5 sacks. If he can't go, Brett Warren (6-1 224), who had four starts this year, will take his place.
Adibi, a great athlete, earned AFCA First Team All-America honors in a year where he had 108 tackles, including 12 behind the line. Cam Martin (6-1 209), a former free safety, has been solid at the WHIP spot. He has 77 tackles, eight for loss, 4.5 sacks and six passes broken up this year. Rover Kam Chancellor (6-3 220), a former quarterback, then cornerback, plays the strong safety/linebacker hybrid spot. He has 72 tackles on the year.
Brandon Flowers (5-10 200) and Victor "Macho" Harris (6-0 203) are arguably the top cornerback tandem in the country. Flowers, an AFCA First Team All America, is a better cover guy while Harris may be a bit more of a playmaker. Both earned All-ACC first-team honors and both had five interceptions. Both are also solid tacklers. Flowers, the boundary corner, also has nearly 80 stops and seven tackles for loss. Harris, the field corner, broke up 11 passes. Free safety D.J. Parker (6-0 198) had 57 tackles and two interceptions.
Virginia Tech, as always, makes its second living on special teams. Kicker Jud Dunlevy (5-9 179) was 21-24 on field goals this year with a long of 52 yards. He has a strong leg, hitting seven of 10 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Brent Bowden (6-3 213) averages 42.8 yards per punt. The Hokies are also dangerous at blocking kicks and in the return game. Royal and Morgan are the kick returners, while Royal, the ACC's all-time punt return yardage king, is dangerous fielding punts. He returned one 82 yards for a score against Clemson and averages 15.1 per return.