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Tag:Chick-fil-A Bowl
Posted on: February 16, 2012 5:49 pm
 

2012 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff: 2 games in 2 days

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

We've known since September 2010 that the 2012 edition of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game would be the annual event's first doubleheader, one matching up Auburn and Clemson in one game and Tennessee and North Carolina State in the other. But Thursday saw the organizers reveal that for the first time, the Kickoff will become a two-day event, one matching up the Volunteers and Wolfpack on Friday, Aug. 31, and the Tigers and other Tigers Saturday, Sept. 1.

“When we created the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game with ESPN, our goal was to kick off the season in a special and memorable way,” Chick-Fil-A Bowl president and CEO Gary Stokan said in a statement. “With these two games, and these four teams and their fan bases, this is going to be a colossal weekend of football in Atlanta – like nothing you have ever seen before.”

While we don't begrudge Stokan or the athletic directors quoted in the statement their excitement over "the first-ever double hosting of marquee, BCS-style games on back-to-back days in the same venue," we also won't begrudge any neutral fans their lack of excitement over games that -- frankly -- don't quite live up to that "BCS-style" billing. Clemson may have won the ACC last season, but none of the other three participants won more than 7 regular season games, with the Vols' 5-7 mark a particular disappointment. (That billboard-worthy Orange Bowl drubbing at the hands of West Virginia even took a bit of the shine off of Clemson's 2011, too.) There's also the little detail that Auburn and Clemson doesn't exactly qualify as an exotic nonconference matchup any longer, not with the two teams having played each of the last two seasons and three of the past five. 

We won't argue with Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips when he calls the Auburn-Clemson tilt "one of the national highlights of the opening weekend of college football." But compared to past games like Alabama-Clemson in 2008 or Georgia-Boise State in 2011, we're forced to point out the 2012 Kickoff isn't quite that kind of highlight, either.

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Posted on: January 16, 2012 6:56 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 11:51 pm
 

Auburn QB Barrett Trotter forgoing senior year

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Whoever takes charge of Auburn's offense in 2012 -- Gene Chizik has yet to announce a replacement for Gus Malzahn as the former assistant takes the reins at Arkansas State -- will have one fewer option at quarterback after Barrett Trotter's decision to leave the Tiger program one season early.

The redshirt junior announced Monday that he would be forgoing his senior year to further concentrate on his academics. Trotter has received his undergraduate degree from Auburn in communications and is currently working on a Master's.

"My four years at Auburn have been a great experience and I'm thankful for the opportunities that I've had. However, I have decided to forgo my senior season," Trotter said in a statement. "I'm truly blessed to have been a part of winning seasons and championships during my time at Auburn."

Trotter's decision leaves the Tigers with three scholarship quarterbacks on their projected roster for 2012: junior Clint Moseley, sophomore Kiehl Frazier and Maxpreps No. 30 overall recruit Zeke PikeMoseley appeared in 10 games and attempted 108 passes (completing 61 percent for 7.4 yards a try) after wresting the job away from Trotter at midseason, but Frazier's running ability (327 yards, 3 touchdowns) will have him in the mix.

Despite those options, Auburn likely would have still preferred Trotter to remain in the program for another year. Cam Newton's former backup began the year brightly, leading the Tiger offense to 42 and 41 points in wins over Utah State and Mississippi State, respectively, while throwing five touchdowns to one interception. A deep mid-year slump cost him the starting spot, only for him to come off the bench in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl and lead Auburn to the win with an 11-for-18, 9.7 yards-per-attempt, one TD performance. With Chizik rumored to be looking for more of a pro-style look in his next coordinator, Trotter's combination of experience and accuracy might have made him a contender for the starting job.

"Barrett is a great young man who ended his career in a fitting way by helping lead our team to victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl," Chizik said. "We are very appreciative to Barrett for his contributions to Auburn both on and off the field, and wish him nothing but the best as he takes the next step in his life."

We don't doubt that. But we also don't doubt that Chizik also wishes he had that one extra card in hand at quarterback as his offense takes the next step in its life under Chizik's watch.

Though Trotter is not expected to be drafted and doesn't appear to be considering a career in pro football, expert Rob Rang broke down Trotter's draft chances at his CBSSports.com Draft Blog. 

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview. Like us? Tell our Facebook page.

Posted on: January 12, 2012 1:29 am
Edited on: February 3, 2012 12:22 pm
 

1-to-35: Ranking the 2011 bowl games



Posted by Jerry Hinnen


Each December, there's plenty of rankings out there as to how good each bowl should be. But if that's the "before," what about the "after"? Here's the Eye on CFB's (highly subjective) ranking of all 35 bowls from the 2011-2012 college football postseason, best game to worst.

1. Rose. Unlike certain other bowls we could name (who happen to rhyme with "Schmalamo"), the Rose's outburst of offense came despite the presence of legitimate championship-level defenses--making the punch and counter-punch between Russell Wilson and Montee Ball on one side and LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas on the other like haymakers in a heavyweight prizefight. Add in college football's greatest venue, a down-to-the-wire ending, and even the aesthetic battle between the Badgers' understated uniforms and the Ducks' glitter factory helmets, and you've got the best bowl-watching experience of the year.

2. Fiesta. Andrew Luck vs. Justin Blackmon at the top of their powers -- at the top of the powers of anyone at their positions in college football -- would be worth a top-five placement alone. Luck vs. Blackmon and 79 points and overtime drama? That's worth top-two.

3. Alamo Bowl. To call the defenses in this game abominably porous would be an insult to pores (and abominations). But the Alamo is a random weeknight bowl game--just as no one wants to watch an Oscar-baiting 17th-century literary adaptation on their Guys' Night Out, so no one tuned into the Alamo for rugged defense and awesome punting. Thankfully, what Baylor and Washington gave us was the college football equivalent of four hours of Jason Statham shooting explosions.

4. Outback. Come for Kirk Cousins leading the most unlikely comeback this side of the whooping crane, stay for Mark Richt nominating himself for the (dis)honor of "World's Fraidiest-Cat Football Coach." Oh, and triple overtime.

5. New Orleans. We'd ask if you could remember this thriller between Louisiana-Lafayette and San Diego State from the bowl season's opening night, but we don't think anyone who watched could forget Ragin' Cajun kicker Brett Baer deliriously celebrating his last-second game-winner if they tried.

6. Military. One word: #MACtion. And two numbers: 42-41. And, all right, eight more words to help do this game justice: last-minute do-or-die failed fake extra point holder-kicker option.

7. Sun. We're suckers for any game featuring the triple-option (see the Air Force game ranked one spot above), and Utah's 4th-and-14 touchdown conversion to send the game into OT was one of the more dramatic single plays of the entire bowl season. That 3-0 anti-classic between Pitt and Oregon State was a particularly distant memory in El Paso this year.

8. Belk. A matchup of Utterly Average ACC team vs. Utterly Average Big East team -- in a bowl sponsored by a department store that thinks Macy's is way too wild and edgy -- should have been one of the snoozers of the year. Instead, Mike Glennon caught fire, Louisville mounted a spirited comeback, and this wound up one of the better games of the postseason.

9. Little Caesars. The quality of play in this game at times was like ... well, have you ever actually eaten the pizza of the sponsor? But Western Michigan receiver Jordan White put on a spectacular show (13 catches, 249 yards), the teams combined for 69 points, and the Boilers special teams pulled off two onsides kicks and a kick return for TD. Tasty!

10. Famous Idaho Potato. OK, OK: we're giving this game (which was less-than-must-see-viewing for much of the first 55 minutes) a slight bonus for its killer logo. But we're giving it a much bigger bonus for the pulse-pounding final drive from quarterback Tyler Tettleton and the Bobcats for the first bowl win in program history.

11. Armed Forces. If you're going to be a sorta-dull game between two sorta-unmemorable teams, better come up with a memorable play and/or a big finish. Riley Nelson's game-winning fake spike touchdown to become college football's answer to Dan Marino just about did the trick.

12. Sugar. Another for the "ugly game, fascinating ending" file, but this was Michigan doing their damnedest to be Michigan again and Virginia Tech doing their damnedest to avoid the rabbit's feet and horseshoes and four-leaf clovers falling out of the Wolverines' pockets -- Danny Coale most especially -- and it was in New Orleans. You didn't quit watching, did you?

13. Poinsettia. Not a classic, but three-and-a-half back-and-forth hours with a feisty Louisiana Tech team and an underrated TCU squad most definitely qualified as "serviceable." Think of this year's Poinsettia as the quality burger-and-fries plate from the local joint down the street--not mind-blowing, but spend a few weeks in Peru, where they don't have burgers or college football, and you'll crave a Poinsettia Bowl so badly you could scream.

14. Orange. In the space of about an hour, Dana Holgorsen's evisceration of Clemson went from thrilling to discomfiting to boring to morbidly fascinating to -- once we all realized the Mountaineers weren't going to hit triple digits -- back to boring again. Not every game that hits 100 points is one for the DVD vaults, as it turns out.

15. Liberty. Give me Cincinnati defeating Vanderbilt in surprisingly convincing, mildly entertaining fashion or give me death! (Actually, we've got that first thing already, so no need to worry about providing the second, thanks.)

16. Chick-Fil-A. For 2.5 quarters, this was a delightful shootout with all the requisite trickery you'd hope for from a game involving Gus Malzahn. Then Virginia remembered that it was not only Virginia, but proud ACC member Virginia, and the fun was over.

17. Meineke Car Care. Seriously, Texas A&M, we didn't tune in to see you only flirt with blowing a huge lead against a team that hasn't won a bowl game since approximately the Grover Cleveland administration.

18. Capital One. This game featured an abundance of must-watch plays -- Alshon Jeffery catching a  bomb, Alshon Jeffery hauling in a half-ending Hail Mary, Alshon Jeffery getting ejected for fighting -- but aside from, well, Alshon Jeffery, there wasn't much to it.

19. Cotton Bowl. The 15 seconds of Joe Adams' punt return, the 10 seconds of Jarius Wright's touchdown, and the 5 minutes when it looked like Kansas State might mount yet another smashing comeback were riveting stuff. The other 54:35? Not so much.

20. BCS National Championship. A great game, if you're the sort of fan who enjoys watching nature shows where a pride of lions tear a wildebeest to pieces because the wildebeest can't complete a downfield pass to save its life.

21. TicketCity. If he'd stuggled, he'd have been called a fraud; because he ripped Penn State's D into tiny shreds, no one paid attention. Which is why we're working on a sitcom pilot right now called Case Keenum Can't Win.

22. Gator. When one team's special teams scores just one fewer touchdown than the two offenses combined (as Florida's did), it's safe to say you're not watching a classic.

23. GoDaddy.com. Thanks to a 31-0 run from Northern Illinois, what was expected to be a nailbiting shootout ended up the biggest disappointment since that "unrated web content" we checked out.

24. Champs Sports. It wasn't pretty, but at least the Seminoles and Irish were trying their best ... to make us wish they'd just aired a repeat of the 1993 meeting instead.

25. Las Vegas. College football produces a lot of emotions, but from the neutral perspective, it's rare that one of them is outright legitimate anger. Seeing Kellen Moore forced to end his career slumming it against an Arizona State team that checked out in early November sure turned the trick, though.

26. Independence. The Tar Heels came out so flat, and were finished off so quickly, that we're pretty sure the only lovely parting gift they walked away with was "Independence Bowl: the Board Game."

27. Music City. Mississippi State turned the ball over four times, and Wake Forest averaged 2.9 yards per-play. If Hank Williams or some other old-time country artist had come to Nashville to write a sad song about a sad bowl game, this is the game they'd use for inspiration.

28. Insight. Sadly, the only "insight" we got from this game was that Vegas oddsmakers -- who had the Sooners installed as the biggest favorite of the entire bowl season -- know what they're talking about. And who didn't know that already?

29. Holiday. It wasn't that long ago when Jeff Tedford's Cal and Mack Brown's Texas squaring off would have been appointment television. This game was, too, though in the sense that it was the sort of game you made an appointment somewhere else to avoid viewing.

30. Hawaii. Nevada and Southern Mississippi were collectively as sharp as your average butter knife, but let's see you spend a week chilling in Hawaii and then play a quality football game. The best players the NFL has to offer try it every single year and haven't succeeded yet.

31. Pinstripe. The only thing we remember from this game was our wish to travel back to, say, 1998, and explain to a random college football fan that in 2011, Rutgers would win a bowl game in Yankee Stadium that would give them the nation's longest postseason winning streak. (We're still not sure it's actually happening.)

32. Beef 'O' Brady's. Newton's Second Law of Bowl Aesthetics: Whensoever a Game Produces Fewer Offensive Touchdowns Than the Game Has Apostrophes in its Title, That Game Shall Be, Verily, Entirely Terrible.

33. New Mexico. We'd waited so long to be able to sit down and watch a college bowl game, and by halftime we were sort of wishing we'd gotten to wait a little bit longer.

34. BBVA Compass. For two straight years, Pitt has been forced to play in Legion Field on a January weekday afternoon in front of no one under an interim coach against a nondescript opponent. Vs. SMU the Panthers looked like they'd much rather be off somewhere doing something much more fun, like peeling potatoes with their teeth--and we don't blame them a bit.

35. Kraft Fight Hunger. Comedian Patton Oswalt once called a certain famous KFC product a "failure pile in a sadness bowl." Capitalize that B, and we can't think of a better way to describe 2011 Illinois "battling" 2011 UCLA.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview. Like us? Tell our Facebook page.
Posted on: January 4, 2012 7:00 pm
Edited on: January 5, 2012 12:23 am
 

Report: Michael Dyer seeking transfer from Auburn

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

It's not official just yet. But it looks more and more like All-SEC running back and 2011 BCS title game MVP Michael Dyer has played his last game for Auburn.

CBSSports.com RapidReporter Jay Tate reported Wednesday that Dyer has asked for his release from the Auburn program and plans to transfer. The hotly-rumored destination for his services is Arkansas State, where former Tiger offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was recently named the Red Wolves' head coach.

According to one Internet report, Dyer has already filed enrollment paperwork at the Jonesboro, Ark., school, but that report has been disputed by spokespersons at both Auburn and Arkansas State as well as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. An Arkansas native whose family still lives in the Natural State, Dyer could conceivably apply for a hardship waiver in order to play for the Red Wolves without sitting out the standard transfer penalty. (Whether such a waiver would be granted remains highly debatable.)

In Mobile, Ala. for the GoDaddy.com Bowl, both Arkansas State athletic director Dean Lee and ASU interim head coach David Gunn told the local Press-Register they had no information on any plans by Dyer to transfer to their program.

"There's nothing I can confirm or deny," Lee said. "I have no knowledge of anything in that regard."

Whether he lands with Malzahn at ASU or not, however, at this stage it seems unlikely Dyer will ever return to Auburn. Transfer rumors have dogged him ever since he was suspended for the Tigers' Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over Virginia, and with their volume reaching fever pitch Wednesday, it seems only a matter of time before Dyer, Gene Chizik or both make some kind of official announcement of their parting of ways. 

A former five-star recruit out of Little Rock, Dyer ran for 1,242 yards as a sophomore in 2011, his second straight 1,000-yard season.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview 
Posted on: January 1, 2012 1:07 am
Edited on: January 1, 2012 1:12 am
 

Auburn bookends up-and-down year with bowl win



Posted by Bryan Fischer

ATLANTA -- After every score Saturday night Virginia fans swayed back and forth singing their alma mater to the tune of 'auld lang syne.'

On New Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome however, it was the Auburn faithful who sang the actual song with gusto to ring in 2012 with a 43-24 win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"What a great win," head coach Gene Chizik said. "You can say it's the last win of 2011 or the first win of 2012. However you want to spin it, it was a great win. I couldn't be more proud of our players or our coaches."

Playing their final game in the waning hours of 2011 was not what some in the orange and blue were looking forward to. The program had been to the top, been perfect, nearly 12 months earlier but had tumbled down the mountain to 8-5.

The confetti and plush Chick-fil-A cows falling from the rafters in Atlanta were nice but it was unmistakably different from what was falling from University of Phoenix Stadium in January.

The victory, in many ways, bookended one of the most up-and-down years in school history.

"I've said many times that our future is extremely bright. We've got a lot of really good young players," Chizik said. "We've had a lot of highs this season and we've had some lows. The highs have been really high and the lows have been really low. But these guys always bounce back."

They had been through so much, Aubie the Tiger could have gone to the court house and changed his name to Teflon Tiger. NCAA investigations? Asked, answered and over. They were walloped at home by rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Top running back Michael Dyer was not with the team and rumors swirled all month about him transferring. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof departed for Central Florida and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn surprisingly accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State.

Despite all that, the program wrapped up 30 wins in three years and are tied for the active lead with five straight bowl wins.

"Even though we didn't have a defensive or offensive coordinator, I give all props to Coach Chizik and the staff for holding us together," defensive tackle Gabe Wright said.

Chizik, who is a perfect 9-0 in bowl games as an assistant or head coach, had a little extra on his plate given that he was coordinating the defense.

"It was very challenging," he said. "(Virginia) was an offense that did a lot of things we hadn't seen all year long. You have a lot of obligations. To try and be a position coach, the defensive coordinator, to call the game and still make decisions on the sideline - to go for it, onside kick it, punt, whatever it is - that's a lot of moving parts."

Special teams - one area where the head coach usually helps oversees - was key to turning a tight game into a blowout. Down seven, Onterio McCalebb scored on a statue of liberty play. Instead of putting the defense on the field, Chizik called for an onside kick.

Well, was nudged into calling it.

"We told them before the game started that after we scored the first touchdown, we were going to do it," he said. "But I forgot because I was over getting mixed up with the defense. After the second one, one of the coaches came up and said we had to do it. The players were all in to it."

The defense set a school-record, though it's nothing for them to be proud of, by allowing 408 yards per game. It's one reason why Roof is in Orlando and Chizik now sits at a crossroads having to replace two coordinators.

Last season, it was Malzahn - not Chizik - who was credited for most of the Tigers success last season. He won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant and his departure is one reason why, despite the amount of talent on the depth chart entering 2012, the future at Auburn still seems unclear.

How respected is Malzahn? He was the one, not the head coach, that was showered with Gatorade as the final few seconds ticked off the clock.

"That style of offense, they change up the reads and make it to where your run fits are important," Virginia head coach Mike London said. "Coach Malzahn does a great job and I wish him luck at Arkansas State."

"He's always going to be a great friend of mine and I'll always be very appreciative of him for what he's done for Auburn in three years," said Chizik. "I wish him the best, he's going to do a great job and be a great head coach."

Malzahn was aggressive and sped up the offense more than he had during the season. The Tigers' offensive output was so unusual that even normally sure-handed H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter. The Auburn sideline took a few moments to stare in disbelief before snapping the ball again.

Starting quarterback Clint Moseley, who took over down the stretch run to close the season, injured his ankle early in the game. The offense didn't skip a beat with Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier however, the former using his arm and the latter his legs to power scoring drives complete with misdirection and big plays. Fully healthy for the first time since October, wide receiver Emory Blake seemed to change the dynamics of the offense with his ability to stretch the field. The game's most outstanding player, McCalebb, had the team's longest run of the season in the second quarter.

"We just went out there and played hard," Lutzenkirchen said. "It felt good to get a win for the seniors."

The Cavaliers, who competed a remarkable turnaround in London's second season to come close to playing in the ACC title game, couldn't sustain momentum despite 428 yards of offense at nearly six yards a play. They missed a chance at the program's first bowl win in six years but did so without two of the team's best players, cornerback Chase Minnifield and linebacker Steve Greer.

"It's been a fantastic year for us," London said. "You get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Right now this one stings a little bit. They played better than we did. We just regroup and get ready."

While London appears to have Virginia pointed in the right direction, there's still plenty that remains to be seen about the direction Auburn is taking. If the bowl game was any indication though, things will be just fine on the Plains.

"We just came out here and got the job done," said McCalebb. "People didn't give us much credit coming in. We knew we had to go out and do what we do."

Wright, a freshman defensive tackle who said he would ably step in for Nick Fairley on Signing Day in February, had a coming out party with a sack that setup the safety and was the only player who was able to get any pressure on quarterback Michael Rocco most of the night. Fellow frosh Quan Bray had a nice return after the safety and, despite his lack of attempts, Frazier left an impact by scoring two touchdowns in goal line situations.

"I've said it before, the future is extremely bright," Chizik said. "And this win gives a good idea of the direction we've been going in."

Bookended by success, Chizik will have to hope he's got a few more lessons ready to keep the program from taking two steps forward but one step back in 2012.

"We won some big games and we got beat in some big games," he said of the season. "There's a lot of teachable moments in there for our team."

Enough, he hopes, to carry over into next season as old acquaintances be forgot.


Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:45 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:46 pm
 

Key Matchup: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen




A look at the key matchup that could determine the
 Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Auburn QB Kiehl Frazier, RB Tre Mason vs. Virginia LBs Steve Greer, Leroy Reynolds

The Auburn offense that takes the field against Virginia in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl is likely to have some key differences from the one that Tiger fans watched for much of the regular season--some of those differences promising, some much less so. Where the latter's concerned, the suspension of star running back Michael Dyer removes the Tigers far-and-away leading rusher and (receiver Emory Blake arguably excepted) only consistent offensive weapon out of the equation.

But after a season in which the Auburn quarterbacks threw for fewer yards in SEC competition than the QBs for any other team in the league, one of those differences may also be the unveiling of true freshman QB Kiehl Frazier as the every-down signal-caller. Frazier has reportedly shared first-team snaps with ostensible starter Clint Moseley during Auburn's bowl prep, and Frazier's already proven during the season that he can be an effective run-first change-of-pace. Adding that athleticism to the offense full-time would open up more of the Tigers' 2010 Cam Newton-derived playbook, and with the extra time to prepare, Frazier could be ready to show enough command of the offense to get the Tigers moving again. And while Dyer's absence strings, Frazier's fellow freshman Tre Mason has shown promise in limited action at tailback and could be due for a breakout game.

Standing in Frazier's and Mason's way, though, will be a pair of outstanding Cavalier linebackers in Steve Greer (pictured) and Leroy Reynolds. The juniors finished 1-2 on the team in tackles, with Greer's 103 stops earning him second-team All-ACC honors and helping lead the team to a 34th-place finish in the FBS rush defense rankings.

With Frazier and the speedy Mason in place rather than Moseley and Dyer, Auburn would rely much more heavily on the inverted veer and similar option plays than earlier in the season, putting more pressure on linebackers like Greer and Reynolds to play assignment football and stuff the run before it starts. If they don't, Gus Malzahn's patented run-short-throw-deep play-action game could finally get Auburn out of its offensive rut. If they do, though -- and leave Auburn facing clear passing downs against Chase Minnifield and the talented Cav secondary -- the Tigers may be rendered as toothless as ever, no matter how much Frazier and Mason shake things up.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview

Posted on: December 29, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 4:48 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Chick-Fil-A Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

AUBURN WILL WIN IF: Gene Chizik still has some of that old defensive coordinating magic tucked away somewhere. With the exception of a handful of games during his team's 2010 national title run, Chizik -- a Broyles Award winner as a DC with a long and exemplary track record at both Auburn and Texas -- has never been able to translate that acumen to his defenses as a head coach, either at Iowa State or Auburn. That continued this year, as the Tigers slumped to a 79th-place finish in total defense, their formerly stout rush defense (which led the SEC in 2010) plummeting to 98th nationally.

With the Auburn offense an out-and-out shambles by season's end (the Tigers failed to score more than 17 points against any SEC team outside the state of Mississippi) and Gus Malzahn unlikely to fix it while splitting time with his new head coaching duties at Arkansas State, Chizik's winning formula will have to be the same as it was in his team's midseason upset of South Carolina and defeat of Florida: a stifling defensive effort paired with just enough points to get by. In up-and-coming defensive end Corey Lemonier and fiery senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, Chizik has some of the pieces necessary to reprise those game-winning performances from earlier in the year. With Ted Roof out of the picture and the Dec. 31 date giving him plenty of time to work with his defense, this is Chizik's chance to prove he can still make a difference on the defensive side of the ball; if he's not up to it, it's highly doubtful his team will be up to winning the game, either.

VIRGINIA WILL WIN IF: they take advantage of their opportunities. There aren't many teams with a wider gap between their FBS rank in total offense and scoring offense than the Cavaliers, who finished a respectable 48th in yards but managed to come in 88th in points. The culprit's an easy one to spot: Virginia converted just 21 of its 42 red zone possessions into touchdowns, a 50 percent mark that placed them 105th nationally. Starting running back Perry Jones (883 yards) and sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco (2,359 passing yards, 7.3 an attempt) have been capable when it comes to moving the chains, but aren't much for the big play; Jones has only five touchdowns on 176 attempts, Rocco 11 TD throws (to 11 interceptions) on 325 passes.

Given Auburn's defensive frailties, Rocco, Jones and the Cavs are likely to move the ball and add a few more red zone possessions to their total of opportunities. But if they don't cash in, the game could devolve into the kind of diown-to-the-wire white-knuckler in which Chizik's teams have had so much success.

THE X-FACTOR: A major reason Auburn won those slugfests with the Gamecocks and Gators, or its season-opening shootout with Utah State? Its special teams, which feature Ray Guy award finalist Steven Clark at punter, dangerous kick returners Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason (who each have a return for a score this season), and touchback machine Cody Parkey handling kickoffs. According to Phil Steele's special teams ratings, Auburn finished the year eighth in the kicking game and Virginia 91st. If those numbers prove accurate, the Cavs could have a hard time overcoming what might be a decisive Tiger advantage in field position.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview

Posted on: December 22, 2011 12:34 pm
 

PODCAST: 12/31 Bowl Previews w/Dennis Dodd

Posted by Tom Fornelli

What? You thought we were finished with all the bowl preview podcasts? Well you were wrong, my friend. The CBSSports.com College Football Podcast is previewing ALL of the bowls this season. If there's a bowl game being played, we're on it. In today's episode of the podcast, Adam Aizer is once again joined by Dennis Dodd as they discuss all the bowl games that will be played on New Year's Eve.

The Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Sun Bowl, the Liberty Bowl, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, and the delicious Chick-Fil-A Bowl, they're all here. Find out what you can expect in each matchup.

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