Last year, they very easily could have gone into the Orange Bowl against 'lowly' NIU and gone through the motions putting up a fairly unimpressive win, but they didn't. They showed up to play, took care of business, throttled them 31-10 and used the experience and momentum gained from that win to carry themselves into this season and now they're playing for the National Championship. That one win vaulted them higher in the standings going into this year, brought a lot more exposure to the program, helped make the school an easier sell on the recruiting circuit, and got the team focused for the season they just had. Yes, having Jameis Winston really helps, but you cannot discount just how much winning the ACC and cruising in their BCS bowl last year helps.
This is why I always got so frustrated with the performances of VT teams in the past in their BCS games. The viewpoints that the bowls should be seen as a reward, while on the surface sounding nice, just never really sat well with me, cause of the potential momentum we continuously lost with the underwhelming performances year after year. The losses against Kansas and Michigan still hurt to this day because of the momentum completely wasted.