Cory Mccartney
Wednesday December 30th, 2009

No. 12 Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Tennessee (7-5) Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Reason to watch: The battle between Tennessee's Montario Hardesty and Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams will rank among the best running back duels of the bowl season.

Both teams employ the same M.O. on offense, riding the run to take the pressure of their often-erratic quarterbacks by putting them into manageable situations. They also have similar makeups on defense: Virginia Tech ranks sixth nationally in pass defense, Tennessee 10th, but both have been susceptible to the run; the Hokies have allowed a runner to go over the 100-yard mark six times this season, while the Vols are giving up 142.9 yards per game.

Defensive coordinators Bud Foster (Virginia Tech) and Monte Kiffin (Tennessee) will be focused on ending those deficiencies, but redshirt freshman Williams (1,538 yards, 19 touchdowns) and senior Hardesty (1,306, 12) will be tough to slow.

Did you know: History isn't on Virginia Tech's side in this matchup. It hasn't beaten an SEC team since 2002, dropping its last four tries. Plus, the game is being played in the Georgia Dome, and the Hokies haven't won in a dome since 2000. They've also never won back-to-back bowls under Frank Beamer. Then there's the Atlanta factor: Virginia Tech has lost in its last two trips to the Peach State capital (against Alabama and Georgia Tech).

Final Analysis: With nearly identical team strengths and philosophies, this should come down to which QB can make plays under pressure. Hokies signal-caller Tyrod Taylor will be facing the reigning Jim Thorpe winner in strong safety Eric Berry. But Taylor has progressed, throwing just one pick in the last five games, and has learned to use his legs to keep plays alive instead of using them as a first option. The more likely scenario is Foster forcing the game onto the shoulders of Vols QB Jonathan Crompton, whose best performances came against Georgia, Memphis and Western Kentucky, which are 90th, 116th and 120th, respectively, in pass efficiency defense. It's a game plan that should bring the Hokies' Atlanta curse to an end.

The Pick: Virginia Tech 27, Tennessee 21.

Click here for more bowl previews.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.