GridironGrit.com’s Michael Gartman (Founder, CEO, NFL and College Football Senior Writer) and Oren Shiri (Marketing Coordinator, NFL and College Football Analyst) are previewing 16 of the best bowl games in the 2011 College Football Bowl Season. This is their fifth edition in the series.
The Virginia Cavaliers (8-4) battle the defending BCS Champions Auburn Tigers (7-5) on New Year’s Eve at 7:30pm EST on ESPN in the 44th annual classic 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
There may not be fireworks in the stadium, but we’ve heard about raining cows…
Trouble For Tigers Trying To Cavs: Coach Gene Chizik might have more duties to focus on now that the defensive coordinator is moving on after Saturday night’s action. Chizik knows his defense well though, so expect the unit to be ready and full of intensity when the Tigers take the field.
However, they’re really going to have to come prepared with the ability to make schematic adjustments and in smooth transition in order to prevent Virginia’s lethal and multi-dimensional Perry Jones from running the ball down their throat.
Jones led the Cavs with 883 rushing yards and five scores this year and ranked second on the team with 41 receptions. Jones isn’t the only weapon on offense the Tigers need to stop if they are going to have any chance of coming out with a win.
In addition to Jones and running back Kevin Parks (661 yards and six scores), Auburn will have to try to contain quarterback Michael Rocco, who’s as rock-solid as solid rock and wide receiver Kris Burd, who leads the Cavaliers with 60 receptions and consistently move the chains. Burd, a senior, has 43 catches for first downs with four 100-yard games this season and eight in his collegiate career. Look for him to have a banner game.
The Tigers surrendered 194.7 yards per game on the ground, 98th most in the nation. Moreover, Virginia’s relentless run attack chalked up at least 153 yards in nine of its last 10 games.
Auburn’s 1-2 Punch: For the Tigers, look for lots of play from both Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason out of the backfield while Michael Dyer serves a suspension. McCalebb is a veteran with 13 career starts, including seven this season.
Each has returned kickoffs for touchdowns in 2011 and in a close contest like this may end up being the game-changing difference generating momentum with another big return.
What It Means To Virginia: Virginia is in the midst of trying to finish its campaign on a positive note after suffering a disappointing season in 2010 with a record of 4-8. The Cavs are making their first bowl appearance since ’07.
A win over a solid SEC team which won last year’s National Title on a big stage would be quite a big deal.
Did You Know: Auburn was outscored 246-160 in conference play. A loss would drop the Tigers to 7-6, the worst record of any defending champion in the BCS era.
Prediction: Virginia 27, Auburn 24
Auburn Season In Review: The Tigers—defending BCS National Champions—were given such frightening early season scares, they wet their fur, escaping from the jaws of death against the likes of Utah State (42-38) and Mississippi State (41-34), before losing a battle with Clemson in a tough cat fight by two touchdowns. Auburn responded with a warm and fuzzy win over Florida Atlantic and nail-biting upset over South Carolina.
After getting slaughtered by Arkansas, the Tigers chomped at the bit with a win over Florida, before going down hard in a 38-point defeat at LSU. Following a solid victory over Ole Miss and bye week, Auburn lost by 38 points against Goergia. The team responded with an inevitable easy victory over Samford, before getting served its third 40-burger on the year and a beatdown by in-state rival Alabama.
Virginia Season In Review: The Cavaliers opened the season with a 40-3 dismantling over William & Mary and a 34-31 win in thrilling fashion over Indiana. After two tough, competitive contests which both ended in losses against North Carolina and Southern Miss, Virginia bounced back with victories over Idaho and Georgia Tech by four points combined.
The Cavs lost by two touchdowns to N.C. State, but won their next four games over Miami (FL), Duke, Maryland and Florida State by 36 combined points. But like Auburn, Virginia’s final game against its biggest rival ended in dreadful disappointment, as the Cavaliers were annihilated by the Hokies of Virginia Tech 38-0 in shutout form.
Despite distractions and many missing pieces, I have a gut feeling the Tigers get the job done and put together the win over Virginia, proving once again why the SEC is the best all-around conference in college football.
Prediction: Auburn 21, Virginia 20
Here’s our predictions for previous bowl games:
You may notice this article was published well after the action got under way. It was due to time constraints, however our predictions (which never change whenever we make them known) were posted on our Facebook page before kickoff.
Bowl Season Records:
Michael Gartman (4-0), Oren Shiri (4-0)