FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The blueprint for championship football traditionally calls for teams to have one standout quarterback, that in-the-huddle leader to rally around throughout a season.

Not so at Virginia Tech this year.

And most definitely not at Cincinnati, which did the most quarterback shuffling in the country.

It was a wild, unpredictable season of quarterback roulette for the teams meeting in Thursday’s Orange Bowl. Nonetheless, the 12th-ranked Bearcats (11-2) and 21st-ranked Hokies (9-4) found ways to overcome the constant switcheroos, and one of them will open the new year celebrating a Bowl Championship Series victory.

“It’s been a very interesting year when it comes to the quarterback position for us,” Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn said, understating what the Bearcats went through under center in 2008.

Compared to Cincinnati, Virginia Tech had it easy this season.

Virginia Tech opened the year with Sean Glennon as the starter, but a sluggish start prompted the Hokies to quickly abandon plans to redshirt Tyrod Taylor. Soon, Taylor emerged as the go-to guy, but Virginia Tech — which survived a midseason stretch where both were playing hurt — ultimately needed each of them on its way to a second straight Atlantic Coast Conference title.

“I’m glad I didn’t redshirt,” Taylor said.

In the end, the Hokies’ scenario was relatively normal.

One guy struggled, another guy played. Pretty simple stuff.

That so wasn’t the case at Cincinnati, where five different quarterbacks played this season, matching the most of any school in major college football. In all, seven players took at least one snap.

“Once everyone started talking about us and you see in the media guide that five different quarterbacks have played this year, it’s pretty unbelievable to look back on,” said Tony Pike, the Bearcats’ starter.

Pike’s story neatly sums up what sort of year it was for the Cincinnati QB corps.

To begin with, perhaps the best QB among those hoping for a shot in 2008 isn’t even on the team: Former Wake Forest standout Ben Mauk went 0-for-7 on attempts to win a sixth season of eligibility from the NCAA.

It only gets whackier from there.

“My parents and I joked about how many quarterbacks we had at the start of the season, and we figured some of them would have to switch positions,” Cincinnati running back John Goebel said. “Thank God they didn’t, because we actually needed all of them.”

There were three quarterbacks on the Bearcats’ depth chart to open the season. Pike was not one of them. He got his shot after Dustin Grutza opened the year as the first-stringer and subsequently got hurt, but Pike quickly lost the job when his left (non-throwing) arm was broken one game later.

Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly teaches a “next man in” philosophy, a saying that’s become a credo of sorts for the Bearcats.

Kelly’s thinking is simple: No matter where you are on the depth chart, you better be ready. And it was almost prophetic.

Whether it was Grutza starting the year before breaking his leg (and eventually returning with screws holding the bone together), Pike getting his arm broken (once again, with screws and a plate inserted to expedite his comeback for the second half of the year), or Chazz Anderson completing more than 60 percent of his passes in three games as the fill-in, the Bearcats worked “next man in” to perfection.

“Our team is really close. We have a good bond,” Grutza said. “When I went down, I was there behind Tony, telling him, ’Let’s go, you’ve got to step up, take care of the team.’ We knew we had a good team, a good shot at winning the Big East, and coach Kelly helped us get through that adversity.”

So it wasn’t typical, but it was the path Cincinnati needed to get to the Orange Bowl.

The way Quinn sees it, that makes the Bearcats’ first BCS experience even sweeter.

“As I always said, you never underestimate the spirit of a human being,” Quinn said. “A lot of times you look at profile, height, weight and things of that nature. But you can never really see what’s in a kid’s chest, in his heart and what’s between his ears and his smarts.”

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