for this game

Cincinnati makes BCS debut vs. Virginia Tech in Orange Bowl

Jan 1, 2009 - 2:08 PM (12) Cincinnati (11-2) vs. (19) Virginia Tech (9-4), 8:30 pm EST

MIAMI (Ticker) -- Cincinnati already has enjoyed a dream season under Brian Kelly, who has coached the Bearcats to unprecedented heights.

Coming off the first 11-win campaign in school history, 12th-ranked Cincinnati will end its season on the national stage against a school that has become accustomed to BCS bowls.

The Big East Conference champion Bearcats will make their BCS debut on Thursday when they take on Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, which will be played at Miami's Dolphin Stadium.

A downtrodden program throughout most of its 122-year history, Cincinnati (11-2) has emerged as a rising power under Kelly, who has posted a 21-5 record in two seasons with the Bearcats.

Cincinnati won 10 of its last 11 games this season en route to the first Big East title in school history.

Traditionally considered a basketball school, Cincinnati finally has garnered some gridiron attention thanks to Kelly, who announced earlier this month that he intends to remain with the Bearcats.

"It's an honor to be invited to the Orange Bowl," Kelly said following the BCS bowl announcements. "We've prepared for this moment since we arrived on campus two years ago. It's a big day for our program.

"That said, we're still going down to Miami prepared to win a football game."

While Cincinnati is relatively new to the postseason, playing in a BCS bowl has become a regular occurrence for Virginia Tech (9-4), which won its second straight ACC title with a victory over Boston College in the conference championship game.

The Hokies dropped a 24-21 decision to upstart Kansas in the 2008 Orange Bowl. It marked the fourth time that Virginia Tech appeared in a BCS bowl under coach Frank Beamer, who obviously

appreciates his team's effort this season.

"I'm really proud of our players and coaches," Beamer said following the Hokies' 30-12 victory over Boston College in the ACC title game. "This particular year especially, because we've overcome so much, I'm really proud of that."

Despite losing three times in a four-game stretch from October 18-November 13, Virginia Tech won its third ACC title since joining the conference in 2004.

The Hokies ranked last in the ACC in terms of total offense but finished third in the conference in rushing behind running back Darren Evans and sophomore quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Evans finished second in the ACC in rushing with 1,112 yards while Taylor, who initially planned to redshirt this season, ran for 691 yards. The duo combined for 16 TDs on the ground.

Virginia Tech's strength is a defense that ranked second in the ACC in opponents' scoring (17.5 points per game) and total yardage (277.1 ypg).

That will set up an interesting matchup with a Cincinnati team that led the Big East in passing offense.

The Bearcats are led by junior quarterback Tony Pike, who passed for 2,168 yards and 17 TDs in 11 games despite playing the majority of the season with broken bones in his non-throwing forearm.

The 6-6 Pike was forced in to action when Dustin Grutza, the Bearcats' Opening Day starter, broke his lower left leg in a 52-26 loss to Oklahoma on September 6.

Grutza returned to play briefly in two of Cincinnati's last four games, and Kelly has indicated that both quarterbacks could play in the Orange Bowl.

"We'll continue to work both of them," Kelly said earlier this month. "They'll get a lot of work, but I really haven't made that decision yet."

Cincinnati will be playing in just the 10th bowl game in school history. After a long postseason drought from 1951-1997, the Bearcats have won four of their last seven bowl games, including a 31-21 victory over Southern Miss in last year's Papajohns.com Bowl.

Conversely, Virginia Tech will make its 16th consecutive bowl appearance under Beamer. Seven of those games have taken place on or after January 1.

The Hokies have endured postseason struggles in recent years, losing five of their last seven bowl games.