2008 Keys to the Game, Matchups to Watch, and Game Prediction: The Orange Bowl

Virginia Tech returns to the Orange Bowl as an underdog to the Big East
champion Cincinnati Bearcats. The Hokies have a more serious, business-like
attitude going into this game with the reputation of the program and the ACC
conference at stake. While this game may not have the marquee appeal of the
other BCS bowl games, the Orange Bowl may well be the most competitive match up
of the major bowl games. So, what should we expect in this year’s bowl game?

In ESPN’s Bowl Mania Special show, the “talking heads” had the
Virginia Tech-Cincinnati match up as the most unpredictable of the entire bowl
slate. No one seems to know what to expect from this game. Will the Hokies play
up to the standard of the strong home stretch or will VT revert back to the
sub-par performances of the last couple of bowl games? How will Cincinnati react
to their first BCS bowl appearance? These are just a few of the questions to be
answered in this year’s Orange Bowl.

In watching several Cincinnati games this year, one observation hit me about
the Bearcats. On defense, Cincy reminds me a lot of another squad that the
Hokies faced in Joe Robbie Stadium earlier this year — the Miami Hurricanes.
The Bearcats are extremely aggressive on defense using an attacking style to
generate turnovers and create negative yardage plays. Cincinnati blitzes a lot
and plays mostly man-to-man coverage with a pair of outstanding cornerbacks
shutting down opponent wide receivers. In many respects, Cincy’s defense is
similar to the Hokies’ first BCS team that defeated Texas in the 1995 Sugar

Not only is the Cincinnati defense aggressive and fast, the Bearcats have the
most experienced unit in college football starting 10 seniors and a junior. The
major difference between this squad and the Miami defense is the discipline of
the unit, while still maintaining an aggressive attitude. The young,
inconsistent Hokie offense will be severely tested in this game, and the ability
of Virginia Tech to consistently move the ball will be critical in this game.
Possibly more important, the Hokies cannot afford to turn the ball over against
an opportunistic Cincinnati squad that relies on field position.