By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011; 12:41 AM
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. - Senior Tyrod Taylor will take the field for the 50th and final time in a Virginia Tech jersey Monday night when the Hokies play No. 5 Stanford in the Orange Bowl. The question he's been asked the most in recent weeks - reflective of the mounting criticism in Blacksburg about the program's inability to win when college football spotlight shines brightest - is how a win over the Cardinal will impact his legacy.
"We haven't won a big kind of a game against a team that has been ranked real high in a long time," said Taylor, who owns just about every significant Hokies passing record. "We haven't won the big games that a lot of people want to see us win.
"We can't change the past. We can only start now, and it would be a big win against them."
This, more than a chance to become the first ACC team to win 12 straight games after starting a season 0-2 or win three consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history, has been the motivating factor as the Hokies get set for their third Orange Bowl appearance in four years.
The Hokies have a 1-26 all-time record facing opponents ranked in the top five nationally, the lone victory coming in 2003 when they defeated No. 2 Miami, 31-7. During Coach Frank Beamer's 24-year tenure, Virginia Tech is 1-18 against top-five opponents.
And though it has become a black mark on Beamer's otherwise remarkable run in Blacksburg, he hasn't shied away from mentioning it to his team or the press since arriving in South Florida last week.
"We've [played] for a national championship, but I think as you go along, to state that you're one of the top programs in the country, you've got to get your share of wins against a top-five team," Beamer said. "I think it's important for this program, at this time, to be able to say we can win a game against a top-five team."
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, a member of Beamer's staff for 18 years, referred to the Hokies' record against elite foes as an "albatross," but was quick to point out that it isn't as if Virginia Tech hasn't had chances to win some of those games.
The Hokies have lost by 11 points or less eight times during the streak.
The poor record can also be a bit misleading since many of the most lopsided losses came before 1995, a time when the team didn't have the status or the talent level it enjoys today. Still, though, the Hokies have lost 10 of their 11 games against top-five teams since the 2000-01 season - including a defeat to No. 3 Boise State to begin this year.
Senior Davon Morgan said that even though the school's lack of success against elite opponents has again become a topic of discussion, players aren't thinking too much about it. If they do, "we'll be 1-27 then," he said.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster believes the fact that the Hokies have been involved with so many games against premier foes should be viewed in a more positive light. But even he concedes, "We need to win a game like this, I think, to get us to that next step in our progress as the type of program we want to be here."
This is the point Beamer frequently mentions. There are certain games and specific years that are ingrained in his mind, games that change the perception of Virginia Tech from simply an engineering school in southwest Virginia that happened to have a football team into a perennial national power.
There's the 1994 Independence Bowl victory over Indiana, which marks the start of the Hokies' current 18-year streak of appearing in a bowl game. Or the 1995 team, which also began its season 0-2, only to embark on a 10-game winning streak that ended with a victory over Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
At the top of Beamer's list are the exploits of the Michael Vick-led squad that went undefeated during the 1999 regular season before losing to Florida State in the national championship game.
Beamer says that with all the Hokies have overcome since losing two games in six days to begin this season, a victory over Stanford would put this year's team just below that one.
But to do so, Beamer and company will need to overcome one of its few remaining demons.
"This game right here is really significant as far as the history of Virginia Tech," Beamer said. "Playing a team as good as Stanford that deserves to be top five; can we finish this one?"