No. 25 Auburn (7-5) makes it back to Atlanta to take on Virginia (8-4) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Saturday night. Here's a quick preview:
WHO TO WATCH: Auburn sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier showed how to avoid the sophomore slump this season. Despite the Tigers' defensive troubles, Lemonier was an absolute stud, finishing second in the SEC in sacks with 9.5, getting 8.5 of those in SEC play. He also tied for fifth with 13.5 tackles for loss. Against Virginia, Lemonier will have to be able to generate some pressure in the Cavaliers' backfield to take pressure off the rest of the defense. Virginia isn't great throwing the ball, but the Cavaliers are averaging 232 passing yards per game and are rushing for 165 yards a contest. Getting stops up front will go a long way for Auburn's defense Saturday.
WHAT TO WATCH: With Michael Dyer suspended for the bowl game, Auburn will turn to junior Onterio McCalebb and freshman Tre Mason to carry the rushing load. Dyer was Auburn's top offensive player and was a much more complete back than the others in the Tigers' stable. However, McCalebb and Mason have the talent to be a formidable one-two punch, but Mason is still very inexperienced. Freshman Quan Bray, who has a ton of athleticism, could get some work as well out of the backfield. Awaiting this running game is a Virginia defense that ranks 33rd nationally in rushing defense and is allowing just 3.7 yards per carry.
WHY TO WATCH: Until a winner is crowned between LSU and Alabama, these Tigers are still the defending national champs. On the other side, Virginia was a pleasant surprise in the ACC this season. A year removed from a 4-8 start to his coaching career at Virginia, Mike London guided the Cavaliers to an 8-4 regular season and they were in the mix for the ACC championship game until the final week. These two teams are similar in some ways. They are both young, rotated quarterbacks and had a knack for pulling out close games in 2011. Auburn's Gene Chizik is also pulling double duty as head coach and defensive coordinator, so it'll be interesting to see how the defense plays now after a season where it was near the bottom of the SEC in every statistical category.
PREDICTION: Virginia 31, Auburn 17. Thirty-one points for the Cavaliers is probably a little high, but I'll stay with my original prediction. Both teams are dealing with a youth movement, but Auburn's youngsters hit the wall at the midpoint of the season, while Virginia almost made the ACC title game. I'm not sure Chizik can turn this defense around that quickly and Dyer won't be around. Advantage: Cavaliers.