Orange Bowl: Stanford, VaTech on historic runs

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Orange Bowl: Stanford, VaTech on historic runs

Dec. 30, 2010NO. 5 STANFORD (11-1) vs.NO. 12 VIRGINIA TECH (11-2)

2010-11 BOWL SCHEDULERESULTS

MIAMI (AP) -- In only four years, Stanford has completed a turnaround from doormat to elite team.

The reward for its hard work is a BCS bowl game against Virginia Tech -- one of the few teams in college football hotter than the Cardinal.

In a matchup pitting two of the nation's best quarterbacks, Andrew Luck leads Stanford into its first Orange Bowl on Monday night to take on Tyrod Taylor and ACC champion Hokies, who will try to close their season with a 12th consecutive win.

Stanford's transformation began in 2007 when Jim Harbaugh took over a team that had gone 1-11 the previous year. The Cardinal increased their win total each of the first three seasons under the former Michigan and NFL star quarterback before going a school-record 11-1 in 2010.

Even Harbaugh has been surprised.

ROSTERS: Stanford Virginia Tech

"I'm pretty much a historian of football, dating back 100 years," he said. "This is one of the best turnarounds I've witnessed in 50 years."

Since losing to then-No. 4 Oregon in early October, Stanford has reeled off seven straight wins, its longest run in 19 years.

"That's why this program has progressed, because guys have bought into what he's saying and what he was preaching," defensive lineman Sione Fua said of Harbaugh. "And now we're here four years later going to a BCS game."

A little bit of Luck has also helped.

Luck was a distant second to Auburn's Cam Newton in the Heisman Trophy voting, but he certainly put up stellar numbers. The Pac-10's offensive player of the year broke the single-season school record with 28 touchdown passes while helping the Cardinal average 40.3 points.

Luck has also completed more than 70 percent of his throws for 3,051 yards and rushed for 438 more, including three runs of at least 50 yards.

"With Andrew, you notice all of it because it's just amazing," said Doug Baldwin, who leads Stanford's receivers with 824 yards and nine TDs. "... You look on highlight film of the NFL and you don't see the things Andrew does at the college level."

The junior has thrown only seven interceptions, but he'll be facing one of the most opportunistic defenses in the nation. Virginia Tech is second in the FBS with 22 picks.

Luck's second-place Heisman finish was the second straight for the Cardinal after Toby Gerhart was runner-up to Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009. Stanford, though, could have a Heisman winner down the road in running back Stepfan Taylor.

The sophomore was second in the Pac-10 with 15 TDs, trailing Ducks star and Heisman finalist LaMichael James. Taylor also became the sixth Stanford running back to eclipse 1,000 yards.

While Stanford is seeking its first postseason win since blanking Michigan State in the 1996 Sun Bowl, Virginia Tech probably couldn't have envisioned reaching a BCS game after seeing its national title hopes quickly disappear.

STATISTICS: Stanford Virginia Tech

Following a season-opening loss to Boise State, the Hokies were stunned five days later by FCS member James Madison, 21-16 in arguably the biggest upset of the year.

Frank Beamer's team hasn't lost since, defeating Florida State 44-33 on Dec. 4 to capture its third ACC title in four years.

"Those two losses we had at the beginning of the year makes these 11 wins and an ACC championship seem even greater," Beamer said.

The biggest factor in the Hokies bouncing back from the puzzling first two games to reach the Orange Bowl is Taylor.

Despite the stunningly poor start by his team, the conference player of the year finished with a school-record 23 touchdown passes and four interceptions. Taylor was the team's second-leading rusher with 823 yards and five scores, evoking memories of a former dual threat.

"We were fortunate to have Michael Vick at Virginia Tech. We were fortunate to have Tyrod Taylor. You get that feeling on the sideline like the next play could be a big play," Beamer said.

Taylor's top receivers are Jarrett Boykin (team highs of 763 yards and six TDs), Danny Coale (640 yards, three TDs) and tight end Andre Smith (five TDs). Darren Evans and Ryan Williams also provide punch out of the backfield - Evans leads the Hokies with 846 yards and 11 scores while Williams has gained 525 yards with nine TDs in only nine games.

Besides leading the ACC with 58 touchdowns and 462 points, Virginia Tech became the only school in the nation to notch 10 wins in each of the last seven seasons.

REWIND: Stanford results Virginia Tech season recap

That seemed highly unlikely not long ago.

"I'm just proud of the way we turned things around from an 0-2 start," Taylor said after beating Florida State.

This will be the Hokies' third Orange Bowl appearance in four years. They lost 24-21 to Kansas in 2008 and defeated Cincinnati 20-7 in 2009.

Analysis: Scoring winger a need for Sharks ahead of trade deadline

Analysis: Scoring winger a need for Sharks ahead of trade deadline

SAN JOSE – There are no glaring holes for the San Jose Sharks to fill ahead of next week's NHL trade deadline on March 1.

Still, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is a notorious tire-kicker, and he’s surely working the phones these days to see if there’s anything out there that could help his hockey club, which has a comfortable five-point lead on the Pacific Division midway through its bye week.

“We’ll see, but we do feel really good about this group,” Wilson told CSN earlier this month. “We believe in our players and we believe in our guys on the Barracuda, because they’ve earned that.

“Having said that, our history speaks for itself. If there’s a way to help this hockey team or add something, we’ve always done it, and we’ll always explore it.”

So, what might the Sharks be exploring? There are two areas that make the most sense – a backup goaltender, and a scoring winger.

* * *

No question Aaron Dell has exceeded expectations in his first NHL season. He’s 7-3-1 with a 1.95 GAA and .934 SP in 12 games, and his .953 even-strength save percentage is tops in the league among goalies that have played at least 10 games.

Still, it’s unknown if Dell would be able to handle the day-to-day grind, if anything were to happen to Jones. Even in the minors last season when he earned the number one job with the Barracuda, he wasn’t playing three and four games a week due to the AHL’s Pacific Division having fewer games than the rest of the league. He’s also not been overly tested at the NHL level – of Dell’s 10 starts, only one has come against a team currently in playoff position, and the Calgary Flames are only barely in the second Wild Card spot.

There are some goalies thought to be trade bait as pending unrestricted free agents. They include Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavalec, the Islanders’ Jaroslav Halak, or Philadelphia goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. All could likely be gotten for some combination of young players and/or draft picks.

But is it worth it for the Sharks to make a move for a player that might not even be needed in the postseason? According to one NHL analyst, the Sharks should just take their chances with the inexperienced North Dakota product.

“I probably wouldn’t put a whole lot of resources in [finding a backup goalie],” NBCSN analyst Keith Jones told CSN on the latest Sharks Insider Podcast. “If Martin Jones was injured you’d have a real problem, it would be tough to find a goalie to replace what he brings to the table. I know they tried James Reimer last year, and the book is out on him. … I’m not sure that that’s a major upgrade on Aaron Dell.”

That said, Keith Jones would like to see Martin Jones – who’s on pace to play 69.5 games – get more time off after the schedule resumes. That means increased playing time for Dell.

“I think you might just want to take a chance with your backup a little more frequently,” Jones said. “You may want to sacrifice a few games along the way. [Dell] gains some experience, and Jones gets some rest.”

The impression here is that the Sharks will probably stick with Dell. Sharks coach Pete DeBoer has been nothing short of glowing in his reviews of Dell lately, as well he should be. The goalie has earned his place on this team, and none of the other goalies that the Sharks could acquire would be obvious upgrades at this stage of the season.

* * *

A much stronger case can be made that the Sharks are in need of another scoring winger. 

While the offense has been more dangerous in recent weeks than it was over the first half of the season, it still doesn’t look as effective as it was last season going into the playoffs, when it finished fourth in the league. Yes, the power play has been relatively power-less, but there’s more to it than that.

Mikkel Boedker has been a disappointment after signing a four-year deal as a free agent, and was benched yet again on Sunday. Joonas Donskoi, still out with what looks like a shoulder injury, hasn’t taken that next step after his strong playoff run last season. Joel Ward is off his scoring pace from last year. Patrick Marleau has been outstanding, but remains streaky. Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier have done some nice things as rookies, but neither of them has “arrived” yet, to borrow a word commonly used by DeBoer. Nikolay Goldobin failed in his two-game tryout last week, too.

Finding a winger to play on the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line should be a priority, as DeBoer has tried seven different wingers there this season without finding a permanent fit. 

Among the veterans that could be available are Dallas’ Patrick Sharp or Patrick Eaves, Arizona’s Shane Doan, Colorado’s Jarome Iginla, Detroit's Thomas Vanek, or even Vancouver’s Alex Burrows or Jannik Hansen, if the club is looking for a more agitating type.

Sharp is perhaps the most intriguing name on that list. Although he’s been hurt off and on this season and his numbers are down on a bad Dallas team, he’s a veteran scorer that has won three Stanley Cups as part of Chicago’s dynasty. He’s an obvious upgrade over the players that have rotated through the Thornton line.

Bringing in one of those aforementioned forwards would require some salary cap juggling (especially Sharp, who carries a $5.9 million cap hit) and perhaps a salary from the current roster going the other way, as the Sharks don’t have a whole lot of room right now. But it’s worth exploring, as a consistent offensive attack should be this team’s biggest worry right now with seven weeks until the postseason.

* * *

If the Sharks don’t make a move, DeBoer and company are still confident with the team in the dressing room. After all, most of those players were a part of the team’s run last season, when the Sharks were just two wins from capturing the Stanley Cup.

“For us, it’s not whether a piece comes in or whether we don’t bring any pieces in, I think we’re confident in our group,” DeBoer said. “It’s about us…playing to our identity for as long a stretch as is possible, because that’s what wins in the playoffs. Whether we don’t do anything or whether a piece comes in here, I don’t think that mindset changes.”

Justin Braun said: “Management is going to do what they’re going to do, but if they don’t do anything, we have confidence with everyone in here to get the job done.”

49ers announce more hires to Shanahan's staff

49ers announce more hires to Shanahan's staff

Kyle Shanahan put together some of the final pieces of his coaching staff on Tuesday.

The 49ers announced the hirings of seven coaches, including confirmation of John Benton as offensive line coach.

The team hired former NFL standout linebacker DeMeco Ryans as defensive quality control coach. He was a second-round selection of the Houston Texans in 2006 and spent 10 seasons in the league. He finished his career playing four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 49ers also hired Daniel Bullocks as assistant defensive backs coach, Stan Kwan as assistant special teams, Vince Oghobaase as assistant defensive line, Adam Stenavich as assistant offensive line, and Michael Clay as strength and conditioning assistant.

Benton, 53, was hired away from the Broncos after being on the job for approximately a month. Benton served as Jacksonville’s assistant offensive line coach last season. He worked the previous 13 seasons as offensive line coach with the St. Louis Rams (2003-05), Houston (2006-2013) and Miami (2014-15).

Benton and Shanahan worked together for four seasons with the Houston Texans.

Bullocks worked in the same role with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. The Jaguars' linebackers coach last season, Robert Saleh, is the 49ers' new defensive coodinator. Bullocks appeared in 31 games in three NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions in 2006 and '08.