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Chick-fil-A Bowl preview
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Virginia (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)
Chick-fil-A Bowl
Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Ga.)
Saturday, Dec. 31
7:30 pm ET - ESPN
Auburn -3, o/u 48.5

Call me a traditionalist, but I will always think of this game as the “Peach Bowl.” That said, as far as bowl sponsors go, Chick-fil-A is a whole lot better sounding – and tasting – than Beef 'O' Brady's or some of the other sponsors out there. I have also always had a soft spot in my heart for this game because of its timing. At 7:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, the Peach Bowl has been a pre-party staple as sports fans geared up for the festivities at midnight. Hopefully the 2011 version will once again set the tone for a memorable New Year’s.

One thing is sure; the 2010-11 season was memorable for Auburn. The Tigers – or War Eagle, whichever you prefer – capped off a perfect 14-0 season by beating Oregon in the BCS title game for its second national championship. That win was Auburn’s fourth consecutive bowl victory, a streak many thought would come to an end this season. That’s because the Tigers lost a boat load of talent from their dominant squad last year, including Heisman Trophy winning junior quarterback Cam Newton. A 7-5 record seems like a pretty steep drop from 14-0, but a winning season and Peach Bowl invite is probably the most Auburn faithful could have hoped for.

Similarly, but from a completely different perspective, a Peach Bowl invite is also the most Virginia fans could have hoped for in 2011. The Cavaliers finished 2010 at 4-8, their third straight year without a bowl invite, and while progress was expected in coach Mike London’s 2nd season, 8-4 and a trip to Atlanta on New Year’s Eve is considered a best case ending no matter how this game plays out.

Both of these teams have had their fair share of highs and lows during the 2011 campaign. Auburn had quality wins against South Carolina and Florida but needed a major rally to pull out a victory against Utah State. Virginia turned heads with wins at Miami and Florida State but only after needing overtime to beat Idaho.

Since the regular season ended, there have been a number of changes at Auburn. Both coordinators have moved on as defensive coordinator Ted Roof has taken the same position at Central Florida and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has taken the head coaching job at Arkansas State. Roof won’t coach in this game – head coach Gene Chizik will call the defensive formations – but Malzahn will be on the sidelines to direct the Auburn attack one last time. How Malzahn’s attack will look should be interesting.

This much we know: Running back Michael Dyer will miss this game for violating team rules. Dyer burst on the scene as a true freshman last year, topping the 1,000 yard mark. The sophomore backed it up this year with 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns, becoming the first Auburn player to eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark in both of his first two seasons. Without Dyer, Auburn will turn to Onterio McCalebb who has been productive in a reserve role this season.

The quarterback position could also look a little different as reports out of the Auburn camp have freshman Kiehl Frazier taking a number of snaps with the first team offense. Auburn started the season with Barrett Trotter under center but then turned to Clint Moseley in the 2nd half of the schedule - with mixed results. The thinking goes that Chizik may want to get an early look at Frazier in preparation for the 2012 season and considering Auburn enters this game with the 100th ranked offense in the nation, what does the coach have to lose?

Whichever quarterback goes will face a Virginia defense ranked 29th in the nation and one which has kept the Cavaliers alive in many games this year. That unit has a distinct advantage over Auburn’s defense, ranked 77th in the nation, giving up 29 points and 405 yards of offense per game. The Virginia offense, ranked 46th in the nation won’t overwhelm anyone but if quarterback Michael Rocco can play mistake free football and distribute the ball to a number of options – including RB Perry Jones – the Cavaliers can mount an efficient attack.

While the offensive and defensive stats seem to point to the Cavaliers, we know the SEC is top to bottom a much stronger football conference than the ACC. As much talent as they lost from last year, this is still an Auburn team with fresh memories of a 14-0 National Championship season while Virginia is looking for its first bowl win in six years.

Betting Notes:

  • Virginia was 6-6 ATS this season
  • The Cavaliers went 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS on the road this season. The lone loss came on Sept. 17 to North Carolina, 17-28
  • UVA was 3-1 SU and 1-3 ATS in non-conference action
  • The ‘under’ went 10-2 for Virginia this season
  • Auburn was 4-8 (33%) versus the number
  • Auburn won six of its seven games at home this season
  • The Tigers went 1-4 both SU and ATS on the road, the lone win coming at South Carolina (16-13).
  • The four losses were by double digits and against some quality opponents (Clemson, Arkansas, LSU, Georgia) too
  • Including last year’s win in the BCS Championship, Auburn is 4-0 in its last four bowls and the outcome was decided by three points each time.
  • Ironically, Virginia’s last three bowl games were decided by exactly three points as well. The Cavs are 1-2 SU and 2-1 ATS with the last postseason battle in 2007.
  • The ACC has won the last two Chick-fil-A Bowls, but the SEC was on a 4-0 run prior to that.

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