The 2011 Chick-Fil-A Bowl will host the defending National Champions the Auburn Tigers (7-5) of the SEC and the Virginia Cavaliers (8-4) of the ACC. The matchup on December 31, 2011 at 7:30 PM on ESPN, will put two teams together that have experienced completely different seasons and feelings. The Auburn Tigers came off their National Championship season and played better than the experts predicted, but under achieved for Auburn standards. On the other hand Virginia is coming in off of their best season since 2007 where the Cavaliers went to the Gator Bowl and lost to Texas Tech.
Auburn is looking to win their fifth consecutive bowl game and third for Head Coach Gene Chizik. Chizik might however have to take over more coaching duties for this game with the recent losses of his defensive coordinator Ted Roof to the University of Central Florida, and his offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to become the head coach at Arkansas State. The good news for Chizik is Malzahn should be coaching the offense in the bowl game. The better news for Auburn fans is that Coach Chizik can handle the job taking over extra duties. He might be coming off coaching the best two seasons in recent Auburn history. I know you are thinking where is this guy going with this? Most people did not have Auburn in a bowl game in preseason predictions, and none had the Tigers going 7-5. So, Chizik is on a roll in Auburn even if the fans in Auburn think the seat might be getting hot a year after a National Championship.
Auburn does not have many bright spots to highlight going into this game. The starting quarterback position is up in the air right now going into Saturday. There are there viable options for the Tigers starting with Barrett Trotter who started the year at quarterback for the Tigers, Clint Moseley who took over at the mid-way point, or the emerging freshman Kiehi Frazier. Frazier poses a threat, with his legs he seems to be the favorite to get the starting position and he has been getting more snaps with the offense, and seems to understand the concepts with more experience.
More bad news for the Tiger fans is that star running back Michael Dyer is suspend for the game for violating team rules. That leaves the Tigers to go with backup running back Onterio McCalebb. McCalebb still poses a threat for the Cavaliers as he his lighter and faster than Dyer. McCalebb did have 532 rushing yards on the season.
The Tigers defense will be the group that is really tested. It is a group that finished the season 78th nationally in total defense with only one other SEC team behind them. This group will be down their coach, and going up against a Cavalier offense that finished the season averaging almost 400 yards per game.
The Virginia Cavaliers come in on the opposite side of the story coming off their best season in four years. It is a team led by second year Coach Mike London that also did a wonderful coaching job with a drastic turnaround. Last year his team went 4-8 and was not a factor in the ACC. This year it was a different story; his team was 8-4 with a chance to go to the ACC title game if they could win their season finale against the rival Hokies of Virginia Tech. They lost that game 38-0 to the Hokies, but this season was still a tremendous coaching job by the second year coach.
At quarterback the Cavaliers will start sophomore Michael Rocco, who is coming off his worse game of the year in the finale against Virginia Tech. Rocco finished the year with 2,359 passing yards and ten touchdowns. The key to his success comes from the best front five in the ACC, that is led by All-American guard Austin Pasztor. This offensive line makes it easy to run the ball for the Cavaliers running backs who averaged 165 yards on the ground, and also a group that keeps their quarterback’s jersey clean by only allowing fifteen sacks all season.
This game should be fantastic to watch, and is even harder to pick. There are lots of troubling things coming from the plains, and the Cavaliers are coming off a fantastic season. So you would think that we would take the smart pick which seems to be the Cavaliers, but SECJams is All SEC ALL The Time. We will take the SEC in this one Auburn 24-17 over the Cavaliers.