Bowl Breakdown: Chick-fil-A

Publish date:

Virginia (8-4) vs. Auburn (7-5)Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Reason to watch: Mike London's Cavaliers were one of the most underrated stories of the season. In Year 2 in Charlottesville, London went from 4-8 to 8-4, a turnaround season that included Virginia's first victories in November since 2007 and its first victory ever against Florida State in Tallahassee, earning London ACC Coach of the Year honors. His Cavs aren't flashy, but they're balanced with quarterback Michael Rocco (2,359 yards and 11 touchdowns) and backs Perry Jones (883, five TDs) and Kevin Parks (661 yards, eight TDs). Their strength lies up front with All-America guard Austin Pasztor and Co., who have yielded 15 sacks, second in the ACC.

Keep an eye on: Virginia's running game against Auburn's defense. The Tigers have struggled mightily against the run, allowing 194.7 yards per game, a figure that ranks 98th nationally. To further complicate matters, the unit will be without coordinator Ted Roof, who left to take the same position with Central Florida. That leaves head coach Gene Chizik to moonlight as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. How will the Tigers respond? As bad as Auburn's defense was for most of the season, it did put together a midseason stretch of five games in which it allowed just a shade over 130 yards. The Tigers will need to recapture that effort against the Cavs, who ran for at least 153 yards in nine of their first 10 games and can take over this matchup behind Jones and Parks.

Did you know: A loss would drop Auburn to 7-6, which would mark the worst record of any defending national champion in the BCS era.

Final analysis: The Tigers' issues go beyond their defense, with running back Michael Dyer suspended for violating an undisclosed team rule. That zaps Auburn's 104th-ranked offense of its most viable weapon and puts even more pressure on Onterio McCalebb and little used freshman Tre Mason against a Virginia defense that held four of its last six opponents to 114 yards or fewer on the ground. London and the Cavs will cap their rebound with the program's first nine-win season in four years.

The pick: Virginia 24, Auburn 20