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A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

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Dream Ends Abruptly for Hokies

What we learned last night: don’t try to out-punch Stanford on equal footing, but instead block and parry like a fencer, not a heavyweight champ. For one half, Virginia Tech stood toe-to-toe with the Cardinal, with its quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, largely outplaying Stanford’s star, Andrew Luck. Looks can be deceiving. It became clear over the final 30 minutes that it wasn’t Virginia Tech playing up to its competition but rather Stanford playing down; once the Cardinal shook off the cobwebs, the Orange Bowl was over. In the process, Virginia Tech’s dream season ends in rather disappointing fashion — though the road to the B.C.S. remains one of Frank Beamer’s proudest achievements.

If Tyrod Taylor was the story heading into halftime, the second half belonged to Andrew Luck. The soon-to-be departed star tossed three touchdowns in the second half, each to tight end Coby Fleener. With each throw, with each scramble out of the pocket, Luck proved why he is the consensus top N.F.L. prospect in college football.

That particular anointing occurred weeks, perhaps even months ago, but those who had yet to see Luck live had to be impressed with the results: 18 of 23 for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns, though he did throw one interception. Taylor, his counterpart, made his mark in the first half, whirling out of would-be tacklers along the left sideline before finding David Wilson for an 11-yard score; that gave the Hokies their first and only lead of the game, a 9-7 second quarter advantage.

In hindsight, the game itself was anticlimactic. Stanford rolled, as most expected it would, leaving the A.C.C. — like the Big East — on the sour end of a one-sided B.C.S. defeat. More so than Connecticut, however, Virginia Tech can still be proud of the journey it took to a conference title; last night’s loss doesn’t reflect poorly on the Hokies, but just adds a bitter footnote to an otherwise outstanding season.

Beamer himself echoed that point before this game was ever played, reinforcing the pride he felt in a team that rebounded from two tough September losses to roll off 11 consecutive wins. Did the road end the way he and his team had planned? Of course not. Yet it’s the road that’s traveled, not the destination, that stands as the true measure of a team.

The same can be said of Stanford, though the Cardinal had the good fortune to revel in an Orange Bowl win, not a 28-point loss. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, it doesn’t seem as if the program will have very long to enjoy the fruits of a 12-win season: barring a change of heart, both Luck and Jim Harbaugh will be elsewhere next season — perhaps both in the N.F.L., as most have suggested.

Virginia Tech’s plan will remain the same. The philosophies won’t change, the coaching staff will remain intact and the large majority of contributors will return in 2011, which should put the rest of the A.C.C. on notice. One loss — let alone two straight losses to end the season — doesn’t make or break a team, as the Hokies proved in 2010.

The dream season ended in an abrupt fashion, but as we saw in September, expect the Hokies to learn from their mistakes. That’s how you win 11 straight; that’s why this program is in the fine shape it’s in.

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