Early Game Preview: (8) Kansas vs. (5) Virginia Tech

Game Info: 8:00 pm EST Thu Jan 3, 2008
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By PAUL DIGIACOMO, STATS Senior Editor

While many were surprised when the matchup for the Orange Bowl was announced, the game itself has the potential to be one of the best BCS bowls this season.

The pairing of No. 8 Kansas and fifth-ranked Virginia Tech has raised some of the same questions about the BCS selection process that the national title game is evoking. Those concerns are all likely to be forgotten, though, when the Jayhawks and their high-powered offense meet the stifling defense of the Hokies at Dolphin Stadium on Jan. 3.

While the Hokies (11-2) solidified their place in the Orange Bowl with a 30-16 victory over Boston College in the ACC championship game Dec. 1, the Jayhawks (11-1) earned a BCS at-large berth - something they've had to defend to critics.

Missouri led the BCS standings entering the final weekend of the season, but lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game - its second defeat to the Sooners in 2007, with Oklahoma ranked in the top 10 each time. The Tigers appeared to be the most logical choice to play in the Orange Bowl, but Kansas was selected instead, despite Missouri handing the Jayhawks their only defeat after an 11-0 start.

That led to some questioning of the BCS selection process, most notably, how could Missouri be penalized for losing in the Big 12 title game after beating Kansas and winning the North Division? Also, no conference can have three BCS representatives.

"A two-loss team compared to a one-loss team was probably the most pressing thing that we looked at," Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms said.

Kansas doesn't believe it slipped into its first BCS bowl appearance, despite playing a schedule that was ranked 109th out of the 119 major college teams.

"We've played in our conference schedule here," Jayhawks coach Mark Mangino said. "We've won some games in tough venues like Texas A&M and Colorado. We've played consistently well. We're aware that Oklahoma and Texas were not on our schedule. We understand that. But both of them will be next year. But you're judged on how you play and I think our kids have played very good football all year long."

Kansas has done just that. The Jayhawks are second in the nation in scoring (44.3 points per game) and sixth in total yards per game (491.1), while holding opponents to 16.0 points - fifth-best in the country.

"Very scary," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "You guys talk about them offensively, but it looks to me like they're very good defensively also. Certainly, they've had a great year and we'll try to uphold our end of the deal to have a great game for the Orange Bowl. It has the makings of that."

Beamer's Hokies finished the regular season ranked second nationally in points allowed per game (15.5) and fourth in yardage allowed (293.3). The task of that powerful defense in this game is to contain Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing, as well as the Jayhawks' formidable rushing attack.

Reesing, a sophomore, has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 3,259 yards, with 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. On the ground, the Jayhawks are led by Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp, who have combined to rush for 1,838 yards and 23 TDs.

Reesing has spread the ball around to his receivers, with five having at least four touchdown catches. Senior Marcus Henry leads the way with 994 receiving yards and nine TDs.

"We're not a bunch of superstars on this team. We're just a bunch of regular guys who love to play football," Reesing said. "That's how we like it. We'd rather have 22 guys that no one's ever heard of that are winning every ballgame than a few superstars that everyone focuses on.

"A lot of guys may have been overlooked in high school and weren't highly rated, but they're great players, they fight hard and I wouldn't trade any of these guys for anybody else in the world."

Virginia Tech is also a close-knit team, especially after providing healing at the school after 32 people on campus were killed by a gunman in April.

"How the people of Virginia Tech handled that tragedy and how they responded is really how we'll be remembered," Beamer said. "I can tell you, after that tragedy, Tech people just wanted to be with Tech people.

"And I think football games, and being able to get in that stadium and scream and have some happiness - to be able to win the ACC championship - sometimes I think it was just meant to be."

Virginia Tech looked like it might be in for a long season when it lost 48-7 at LSU in its second game, but the Hokies went on to win 10 of their final 11.

Their offense is solid, led by the two-quarterback system of junior Sean Glennon and freshman Tyrod Taylor, but it's Virginia Tech's defense and special teams that make the team stand out.

The Hokies are third in the nation with 43 sacks and tied for fifth with 21 interceptions, returning five for touchdowns. On special teams, Virginia Tech has returned two punts and one kickoff for scores.

In the ACC title game against BC, the Hokies blocked a field-goal attempt and an extra point - returning the latter 75 yards for a 2-point conversion - in the first half. Virginia Tech then sealed the win with two interceptions in the final 2:16, bringing the last one back for a TD with 11 seconds to play.

"They are a very fine team. Frank Beamer has done a fantastic job," Mangino said. "We have a lot of respect for them. They play great defense, great special teams and are opportunistic on offense. Virginia Tech could make a case for playing in the BCS national championship game."

Kansas is playing in the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1969, and in a bowl for only the 11th time. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is making its 15th consecutive bowl appearance, including four BCS games.

"What a great story," Beamer said. "I really believe there's going to be so much excitement around this game with them, and certainly we'll have some fans that get excited also."


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