Prior to last night's Orange Bowl, many people felt Stanford QB Andrew Luck was the #1 pick in the NFL Draft - if he decided to leave school early. After last night, everyone thinks Luck is the best.
Luck threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns, including three to tight end Coby Fleener, and the fifth-ranked Cardinal (12-1) scored 27 unanswered points in the second half for their eighth straight win and first bowl victory since 1996.
"He played with great poise and led us at all times," Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh said about his quarterback.
Meanwhile, the ACC champion and 12th-ranked Hokies (11-3) had an 11-game winning streak snapped and found little to cheer about in their fourth trip to the Orange Bowl.
Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor passed for 222 yards and a touchdown, but the Hokies scored all of their points in the first half. Two of them came on a safety when Luck threw a pass that was batted down into the end zone and caught by lineman Derek Hall.
Pressured and close to being dragged down, Luck probably shouldn't have thrown the pass. But besides an interception late in the first half, it may have been the only mistake he made.
"All the credit goes to these players. They play for each other and they play to win," said Harbaugh, who deflected questions about his own future with the school.
Stanford's first points came when Jeremy Stewart broke free and ran untouched for a 60-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 in the first quarter. Stewart finished with 99 yards on five carries, while Stepfan Taylor had 114 yards on 13 rushes.
Virginia Tech followed its safety with Tyrod Taylor's 11-yard scramble-and- throw touchdown to a diving David Wilson in the end zone, taking a 9-7 lead. Luck then hit Zach Ertz for a 25-yard touchdown pass and the Hokies got a late 37-yard field goal from Chris Hazley to pull within 13-12 at halftime -- but it marked their final points.
"Give them all the credit," Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "They deserved the win."
A potential labor dispute in the NFL could persuade Luck -- or Harbaugh, for that matter -- to stay in school for another year.
But it's hard to imagine Luck's stock rising any higher than it did when he collected the game's MVP award inside Sun Life Stadium on Monday night after leading Stanford to its first BCS victory.
"I'm definitely going to enjoy this," Luck said of the win. "I don't want to make an impulsive decision."
Cardinal fans chanted for him to stay one more season. Four years removed from a 1-11 season, it was easy to understand their clinginess.
Consider the series of plays Stanford used to extend its one-point halftime lead to 28:
Luck threw three passes totaling 45 yards to move the Cardinal to the one-yard line, where they were stuffed twice until fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic jammed it in for a 19-12 lead (Nate Whitaker missed the extra point).
On the ensuing series, Delano Howell intercepted Tyrod Taylor's 30-yard pass near the Cardinal goal line and Stanford needed just two plays to go 97 yards for another score.
Stepfan Taylor blew through the line for a 56-yard run on the first play, and Luck hit Fleener with a perfect play-action pass on the second for a 41-yard touchdown to make it 26-12.
The remaining 14 points? They came on two long touchdown passes to Fleener, who finished with 173 yards on six catches.
Fleener broke a tackle on the right sideline for a 58-yard grab and sprinted wide-open in the secondary for a 38-yard score with six minutes left in the game.
Luck finished an efficient 18-of-23, his one interception an afterthought amid the post-game hurlyburly about whether he would play on Saturdays or Sundays next year.
"I think there are worse decisions you have to make in life," Luck said, laughing.
He's right, of course.
Danny Coale caught seven passes for 92 yards for Virginia Tech...Stanford extended its school record to 12 wins...The Cardinal suffered their only loss to Pac-10 champion Oregon on October 2...It was the first-ever meeting between these teams...Virginia Tech had won 11 straight games since back-to-back losses to Boise State and FCS foe James Madison to start the season...Stanford dignitaries in attendance included former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Cardinal quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer John Elway, Stanford's only Heisman winner, Jim Plunkett, and retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor.