Saturday, December 31, 2011

PS Bowl-A-Thon 2011: Chick Fil-A Bowl - Eat Mor Chikin

The Where and When:
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA. Saturday, December 31st, 7:30 p.m. ET ESPN/ESPN 3D/ESPN3

The Who:
Auburn Tigers (7-5, 4-4 SEC) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (8-4, 5-3 ACC)

The Why:
Although they traveled different paths both the Tigers and Cavaliers made the trek to the Georgia Dome as a result of bowl tie-ins for their respective conferences. Specifically, the Chick-fila gets the second choice of ACC teams, but Clemson wrapped up the ACC title so they were obviously out, and then for some shocking reason the Sugar Bowl decided to take Virginia Tech (fresh off their blowout loss to Clemson in the ACC title game and their impressive resume that includes beating Duke by 4 and ECU by 7), meaning it was Virginia or bust for the home of the chicken sandwhich.

On the flip side, the Chick-fil-A also gets the 5th pick of SEC teams, which seems fair. By that, I mean it makes sense that the ACC’s #2 team would be matched up against the SEC’s #5 team since that is essentially how good each conference is. Who is the ACC’s #5 team? Do they even have 5 bowl eligible teams? Oh wait, they just added Syracuse and Pitt (and I think one of those two snuck into bowl eligibility with a rock solid 6-6 record, playing in front of half full stadiums). Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming…since the BCS title game is the SEC title game, Arkansas is headed to the Cotton, South Carolina to the Outback, Georgia to the Capital One, etc. Auburn ended up in Atlanta. Honestly, it’s not a bad spot for a 7-5 team that no longer has its offensive or defensive coordinators.

What Smartypants Accounting Guy Would Tell You:
Virginia is a team that is definitely on the rise, having improved from 4-8 last season, and were just a win away from playing for the ACC title before being shellacked by Virginia Tech 38-0 in their regular season finale. The Cavaliers are led by quarterback Michael Rocco who threw for 2,359 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Although Rocco’s season stats aren’t overly impressive, since he took over as the starter full time in late October (against Miami), he’s averaged 191 yards per game and thrown seven touchdowns (against one interception). So, while certainly not a household name like Matt Barkley or Andrew Luck, Rocco did have a productive season. With respect to the ground game for the Wahoo faithful, they averaged 165 yards per game behind the three headed monster of Perry Jones (883 rushing yards this season), Kevin Parks (661), and Clifton Richardson (333). Not surprisingly, the Cavs have relied on their defense to get to 8 wins, as they surrender only 22 points per game(34th in the country), 17 first downs per game (17th nationally), own the nation’s 34th ranked rushing defense (128 yards per game), and are led by first team All-ACC selections Chase Minnifield and Matt Conrath.

After last season’s magical run to the national title, including a big comeback in the Iron Bowl against Alabama and narrowly avoiding incarceration for buying their starting quarterback, Auburn’s season definitely involved some rebuilding. Along those lines, heading into this, their 13 game of the season, there is still uncertainty regarding the quarterback position. Namely, will it Clint Moseley, Barett Trotter, or even Kiehl Frazier taking the snaps? Or, will all 3 split time? Throughout the season, although the QB situation has been fluid (at best), the Tigers knew they could rely on their ground attack and sophomore Michael Dyer, who rushed for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Auburn, Dyer decided to break the sacred code of “undisclosed team rules” and has been suspended indefinitely, leaving the rushing duties primarily to Onterio McCalebb, who rushed for only about 530 yards this season. The story on defense isn’t much better for the Tigers, as they ranked 78th in overall team defense, surrendering almost 5.7 yards per play and 406 yards per game. And, to add insult to injury both offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof left the program (Malzahn for Arkansas State, Roof for Central Florida), leaving the team short-staffed in terms of bowl preparation. However, one bright spot for Auburn has been the work of their kicking units, with Ray Guy nominee Steven Clark averaging 39 net yards per punt and kicker Cody Parkey booming 34 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Pool Prognosticators Pattern:
Auburn’s mascot is the Tigers, but they cry “war eagle” (and even have an eagle fly around as part of the pre-game pageantry), which is pretty confusing. Are they Tigers or Eagles? Of course, the toilet paper-ing of Toomer’s Corner is a cool tradition, although the trees have been poisoned so at some point the faithful may need to find a new spot to toss the Charmin after big victories. As for Virginia, the state is for lovers (which can’t be a bad thing), but my brother is a Viriginia Tech grad (and obviously not a huge fan of the Wahoos). Speaking of, just like Auburn, why is Virginia the Cavaliers but also the Wahoos? And what the hell is a Wahoo? I’ll call it a toss-up since I can’t decide between two team who have multiple mascots.
Vegas Edge:
Auburn is a three point favorite, which seems to indicate that even without a settled quarterback situation and the services of their star running back, the Tigers are still a more complete team than Virginia, and that the SEC’s fifth best team is still better than a top three ACC squad. For the season, Auburn was 4-8 ATS, while Virginia ended up 5-6-1 ATS. So, not a lot of news there since neither team was very impressive from a betting perspective. The over/under on the game is 49, as apparently Vegas believes this will be a low-scoring affair, and I tend to agree; neither offense did anything too dynamic all season, Virginia has a pretty stout defense in general, and Auburn’s special teams will be able to pin Virginia deep, meaning they’ll need to sustain long (aka time-consuming) drives to put points on the board. It all adds up to a low scoring affair.

Sweatpants Verdict:
Virginia certainly enjoyed a solid second season under Coach Mike London, improving their win total by 4 games by riding a strong defense. Auburn, not surprisingly, took a step back after a once-in-a-lifetime run to the BCS title last season. So, how will a Virginia team not used to success fare versus an Auburn squad that is dealing with the inevitable drop after achieving the ultimate success? Even with all of the negative swirl surrounding Auburn, the game is sold out and I expect that the crowd will be partisan toward the Tigers(given the location of the game and the fact that I’m not sure UVA fans travel well) which will give “war eagle” a boost, and using that emotion they will ride a big special teams play (think punt or kickoff return for a TD) to a 24-17 win (Are you honestly surprised the SEC Guy is taking the team from, by far, the best conference in the country?)

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