This time a year ago the Auburn Tigers were on cloud nine, as their birth into the 2011 BCS national championship against the Oregon Ducks would lead them onto a wild ride that saw Cameron Jerrell Newton finish the journey that he started at the beginning of the season. A wild ride that saw Nick Fairley become one of the most feared defenders in America. A wild ride that saw freshman sensation Michael Dyer pull off one of the more miraculous runs in college football history.
Auburn's 22-19 national championship win propelled their program into the next stratosphere, and along with it comes higher expectations and a bulls-eye from everyone in the country. Those expectations and bulls-eye, along with the major voids on both sides of the ball called for a fall back to reality. A 7-5 record isn't the worst thing in the world for an extremely young team, and head coach Gene Chizik realizes that a win in a respected bowl game like the
Peach Bowl Chick-Fil-A Bowl can give his team the confidence to shine brightly in 2012 and beyond.
Of course, the Tigers will still technically wear the crown of "defending champs" until January 9th, and for Mike London's bunch out of Charlottesville a big time win for his Virginia Cavaliers over the crown holders would be a huge hurdle for a team that wants to be on the rise. The Fighting Wahoo's were one of the biggest surprises in the country, finishing at 8-4 and achieving their first bowl bid since 2007. (This is their first appearance in the
Peach Bowl Chick-fil-A Bowl since 1998)
This game will be about who can impose their will on the other team. While Auburn figures out their quarterback conundrum, their running game has been nothing short of stellar. Michael Dyer continues to perform at a high level and Onterrio McCalebb is always a threat to break a long one. Virginia will lean on the defensive prowess of Chase Minnifield and Matt Conrath to slow down Auburn's fast break offense. Both players were first-team All-ACC selections and will look to have futures past their playing careers at UVA.
This should shape up at one of the more compelling bowl games this season, but the big question of course is...who will win? One guarantee I can make, it'll be the team wearing blue and orange.