Discover Orange Bowl Game Preview: West Virginia vs. Clemson

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At the time of the bowl selections, the Big East had three teams sharing the championship, with West Virginia winning the bid for being the highest – and only – team in the final BCS standings.

The Big East and the ACC are often criticized as the worst conferences in the BCS, but the Orange Bowl features two of the top offenses in college football.

West Virginia had a bit of turmoil off the field, but stay focused on the field resulting in a three-loss season and trip to Miami. Dana Holgorsen took over as head coach of the Mountaineers a year earlier than expected after Bill Stewart resigned amid accusations of initiating a smear campaign against his appointed successor.

Despite a few uneasy moments while the situation was sorted out, ultimately the transition had little bearing on West Virginia’s campaign. Holgorsen ignited a West Virginia offense ranked 67th in the nation in 2010, while defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel worked through key losses to keep the defense the third best in the Big East. A founding member of the conference, this may be West Virginia’s last season in the Big East, as they have been accepted into the Big 12.The timetable for the move is uncertain as the university and current conference are in the middle of a lawsuits against each other over the exit. The two entities are scheduled to meet in court in June to determine if WVU is free to leave or if they must remain in the Big East for 27 more months per conference by-laws.

QB Geno Smith threw for 3,978 yards and 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions in the regular season, leading the 17th-best offense in the FBs which averages 459.6 yards total per game. His top two targets are Stedman Bailey who led the teams with 1197 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Tavon Austin who caught a team-best 89 receptions. Although the Mountaineers are primarily a passing team averaging only 117.75 yards on the ground (98th in the nation), Dustin Garrison gained 742 yards and six scores in 2011. The defense had seven new starters, but still managed to end the regular campaign ranked 26th in the FBS allowing an average of 340.2 yards per game.

Virginia Tech has its own dual-threat quarterback in Logan Thomas, but also relies on David Wilson, the ACC Offensive Player and Player of the Year, as its primary weapon in the ground game.

Wilson is fifth in the country with 1,627 rushing yards and nine touchdowns while Thomas has ran for 410 yards and 10 TDs. Thomas has completed 59.2% of his passes for 2799 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions, spreading the ball out as six different Hokies have caught at least 14 passes.  Jarrett Boykin is the top target with 57 catches (731 yards), while Danny Coale has the most receiving yards with 787 (52 receptions) and Marcus Davis and Boykin both have five touchdowns each. Combined with D.J. Coles, the four receivers have combined for 172 catches, 2,466 yards and 16 touchdowns. 

Defensively, Virginia Tech is a solid unit, allowing an FBS 15th-best 107.77 yards on the ground and 206.2 yards in the air, good for 39th in the nation. The Hokies are tied with Michigan with the seventh best scoring defense, with 17.2 points allowed per game. DB Kyle Fuller leads the team with 14.5 TFL, is third with 64 total tackles, and fourth on the squad with 4.5 sacks.

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc