West Virginia in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl: 5 Players You Need to Know

Tom PerryCorrespondent IJanuary 1, 2012

West Virginia in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl: 5 Players You Need to Know

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    Clearly the national perception is that West Virginia and the Big East don't deserve a spot in the Discover Orange Bowl.

    But when it comes to BCS bowl games, West Virginia has a knack for making its critics think twice.

    The Mountaineers knocked off Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, and then turned the trick against Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

    So maybe WVU will find a way to make it three in a row in BCS bowls when it plays Clemson at 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 4.

    For the Mountaineers to get another upset, it will take some special performances in Miami. Here are five players you need to know before the game kicks off.

Julian Miller, DT

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    Julian Miller may be 6'4", 268 pounds, but he seems to fly under the radar when the Mountaineers are discussed.

    But he's a physical defensive lineman who has a knack for making big plays. He leads the team with three fumble recoveries.

    He enters the Orange Bowl with 55 tackles and six sacks. His best game came in a 21-20 victory over rival Pittsburgh, when Miller had nine tackles and four sacks.

    Miller is a three-year starter for West Virginia, even though he may be a bit undersized for the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 defense.

    Still, he is currently the active career leader in sacks with 27.5.

    Despite the great career, Miller has always been overshadowed by other defenders. Heck, he didn't even make All-Big East this season.

Tavon Austin, WR

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    Tavon Austin makes the cut over fellow wide receiver Stedman Bailey because of his special teams prowess.

    Austin is West Virginia's biggest offensive threat because of his SEC-like speed. He ranks second nationally in all-purpose yards with an average of 191.2 a game. He also set a school record with 2,294 all-purpose yards in 2011.

    Of course, he'll get a chance to add to that total against Clemson.

    While the Tigers have freshman standout Sammy Watkins, WVU counters with Austin.

    He leads WVU with 89 receptions, but is second in yards with 1,063. He also has just four touchdown receptions, but he remains one of the Mountaineers' best deep threats.

    Austin has also returned 31 punts for 821 yards and two touchdowns.

Keith Tandy, CB

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    Keith Tandy is West Virginia's best cover man, but he takes a lot to chances so he gets burnt a few times every game.

    Tandy has three interceptions and nine break ups, which shows you teams try to avoid him more than other WVU defensive backs. Clemson may avoid him altogether, considering Terence Garvin will miss the game as he recovers from knee surgery.

    Tandy has chipped in with 58 tackles, and is a two-time All-Big East selection.

    West Virginia will likely put Tandy on Sammy Watkins as much as possible, but he'll probably get to know DeAndre Hopkins just as much.

Geno Smith, QB

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    Geno Smith is the most recognizable Mountaineer on the field.

    He has been the starting quarterback for two seasons and even saw considerable time as a freshman.

    In his first season under Dana Holgorsen, Smith has excelled but his coach believes he'll be exponentially better next season.

    Smith has completed 65 percent of his passes and ranks sixth nationally in yards per game with 331.5. He has thrown for 3,978 yards and 25 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He has broken nearly every school and Big East passing record this year.

    Despite the loss to No. 1 LSU in Morgantown, Smith had a breakout game. He shredded the Tiger defense for 463 passing yards and two touchdowns. He was also intercepted twice.

    With the extra practice time, there's a good chance that Holgorsen and Smith have added some wrinkles to the offense that could make a difference in the Orange Bowl.

    Smith could really use a signature victory like this one to bring more attention to his accomplishments over the past two seasons.

Bruce Irvin, DE

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    Bruce Irvin arrived in Morgantown in 2010 as a junior college transfer and made an immediate impact.

    Irvin was used as a pass-rush specialist his junior season, and finally became an everyday player in 2011. However, his productivity dropped this season as he was double-teamed almost all season.

    He finished with just seven sacks, after recording 14 the year before.

    At 6'3", 245 pounds, Irvin has running back speed, which allows him to beat lineman around the edge and he closes on quarterbacks fast.

    You don't hear Irvin's name much nationally when the NFL draft is discussed. But don't be surprised if he's a second-round pick.

    Irvin's freakish speed and strength could make him a fast climber after the NFL combine.

    It will be interesting to see how Clemson approaches their blocking schemes against Irvin.