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Stanford, Virginia Tech vie for turnaround

MIAMI - Stanford's football program was in a slump in 2006 when Thomas Keiser, a widely recruited prep defensive lineman from Pennsylvania, accepted a scholarship offer to play for the Cardinal.

"I committed very early - I believe it was June before my senior year," Keiser said. "My dad actually made me commit, and I was kind of mad at him."

Keiser had reason to second-guess his father when Stanford subsequently staggered through a 1-11 season in 2006.

Then came the rebound. The Cardinal hired Jim Harbaugh as coach, and four years later, it is 11-1, ranked No. 4 and preparing to play No. 13 Virginia Tech (11-2) in the Orange Bowl Monday night.

Harbaugh said he envisioned such success. "Not only did I envision it, I promised it to my team," he said. "I remember telling the guys that the first time I ever had them together. They're the ones who delivered on it and made me look good."

The Hokies are in Miami thanks to a turnaround of their own. Ranked No. 10 and touted as national championship contenders at the start of the season, they opened with a neutral-site loss to Boise State and a shocking defeat at home against lower-tier James Madison, all in five days.

"The way we started off the season was awful," quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "Sorry to say it like that. It just didn't go as planned."

Taylor and his teammates regrouped and swept the next 11 games, including all eight in the ACC to win the title for the fourth time since joining the league in 2004.

Tech's poor start was a shocker, and not just because of the loss to a lower-division team. The Hokies hadn't been 0-2 since 1995, and their streak of six consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins was in jeopardy.

Handling the situation required creativity, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said.

"There's not a manual that says, 'Step one, in case of crisis . . .' " he said. "It's not like you get on the plane and all of a sudden an oxygen mask comes down and you have a step-by-step process."

A meeting of the seniors the day after the James Madison loss prevented panic. "We're fortunate we have some good-character kids, because I think it takes that to come back from two devastating losses with such high hopes going into the season," coach Frank Beamer said. "We didn't practice any different. Our kids didn't point fingers and went right back to work.

"The same players we had before the Boise State game and James Madison game were still in our locker room. We thought they were good before those two ballgames, and it turned out to be that way."

Beamer's team is in a bowl game for the 18th consecutive year. The Hokies are 1-26 against top-five teams.

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