Bowl Breakdown: Gator

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Virginia.jpg's Cory McCartney analyzes the matchups.

It's no cliché labeling this team the Cardiac Cavaliers. Virginia won an NCAA-record five games that were decided by two points or less, with the combination of a stifling defense and a 100th-ranked offense that struggled with injuries. The defense is anchored by a projected top-five pick in the NFL Draft in defensive end Chris Long. The pass-rushing monster had 13 ½ sacks and 18 ½ tackles for loss in leading a defense that was 13th nationally in points allowed (18.8 points per game) and 17th in total defense.

Sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell split time early in the season with freshman Peter Lalich as Sewell failed to throw for over 100 yards in the first three games. Sewell, a threat to run or throw, eventually won the starting spot but was haunted by inconsistency as he threw for 2,098 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions and ranked 90th in the nation in pass efficiency. He wasn't helped by a running game that was down to third-string RB Mikell Simpson after first-string Cedric Peerman and second-string Andrew Pearman were injured.

With all do respect to the Air Force, it's Texas Tech that rules the nation's skies. For the fifth time in six seasons, the Red Raiders are the nation's top passing team, averaging 475.6 yards per game. Gaudy quarterback statistics have been the norm in Lubbock, with Graham Harrell piling up 5,298 yards and 45 touchdowns. But this season it's been a wide receiver who's been the biggest star of the Red Raiders' attack. Redshirt freshman Michael Crabtree has been Harrell's top target, leading the country with 1,861 yards and 21 touchdowns and winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wideout. As usual, Texas Tech's running game is non-existent, with the Red Raiders ranking 119th with 61.4 rushing yards per game.

Texas Tech's defense has been strong against the pass, ranking 17th (196 ypg) but has been hit hard on the ground, giving up 171 rushing yards a game (78th), including 269.5 in its four losses to Oklahoma State, Missouri, Colorado and Texas. The unit is led by a pair of sophomores in defensive end Brandon Williams, who had 11 ½ tackles for loss, and defensive back Jamar Wall (five interceptions).

The Red Raiders have allowed 15 sacks all season but you can bet Long will find his way to Harrell repeatedly. But as we saw against an Oklahoma team whose defense ranks just behind the Cavaliers, it isn't just about putting pressure on Harrell when it comes to combating the Texas Tech passing game. Teams have to be able to lock down on the receivers and there are just too many options with six Red Raiders registering 30 or more receptions in '07. Even if Virginia manages to disrupt the Texas Tech offense, it's unlikely the defense can keep the Red Raiders down enough for the Cavaliers to deliver another nail-biter victory.

The pick: Texas Tech 35, Virginia 27