FedEx Orange Bowl pregame ponderables

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
MIAMI -- The biggest question going into tonight's FedEx Orange Bowl seems to be: Is Cincinnati ready for this kind of stage?

The Bearcats had a great regular season. Then again, if you look at their schedule, you'll see that they didn't beat any elite teams. Their best wins came over Pitt and West Virginia. While Virginia Tech, at 9-4, wouldn't qualify for the nation's upper echelon this year, either, at least the Hokies have lots of big-game bowl experience.

We'll find out shortly how much that all matters. But I can tell you that coach Brian Kelly, his staff and players have sounded extremely confident going into this game that they're well-prepared and have the right game plan.

And make no mistake, playing Virginia Tech requires a different game plan than most weeks.

"Their style of defense and what they do is extremely unique to a spread offense," Kelly said on Wednesday. "As you know, its base roots are in the eight-man front. So ... there's a lot of different things that go along with preparing for Virginia Tech's defense than other defenses that you see during the year. It might look the same, but I can tell you, for a guy that's been in the spread offense for a long time, there's a lot of different things that I have to prepare our offense for that we don't see during the year."

Watch for Cincinnati to try some wide receiver screens to Mardy Gilyard. They made a living off that play in the regular season, but it remains to be seen whether it will work against a fast Hokies defense.

The flip side is, did Virginia Tech see a similarly prolific spread offense this season in the low-scoring ACC? Coach Frank Beamer certainly seems to have a healthy respect for the Bearcats.

"Offensively .. they know what they're doing," Beamer said. "They operate efficiently. (Tony) Pike, he gets the job done and he's very efficient. I don't think he's fast, but he's nifty, and he buys time and gets the ball out there to his good receivers."

A key matchup tonight will be Cincinnati's interior defensive linemen, led by Terrill Byrd and Adam Hoppel, against new starting right guard Jaymes Brooks, a freshman with virtually no playing experience. The middle is the place to get pressure on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, too, because the Bearcats don't want their defensive ends running up the field and leaving room for Taylor to scramble.

"It takes away from some of the different pass rush moves you can use," defensive end Connor Barwin said. "He feels pressure probably better than anyone we've faced, and he gets out of there quickly."

There's plenty more to say about this matchup, and I'll be saying a lot more as we go along. Stay tuned and enjoy the game ...