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Chik Fil-A Bowl Pick

Virginia vs. Auburn

12/31/11

2011 has been a year or resurgence for the once proud Virginia Cavaliers (8-4) who were just 4-8 a year ago. They competed strongly in the ACC and had a chance to win the conference until their very last game. They will take on the 2010 BCS Champs Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Tigers (7-5) battled to a respectable finish this year despite having very few returning starters. This game opened pick em at some sportsbooks and is now Auburn -3.

The Auburn offense will have to play without stud RB Michael Dyer. He had 10 TDs this year, so that is obviously a big loss. It's a huge loss because Auburn hasn't done very well through the air this year. They will almost certainly have to buck that trend to win this game.

Auburn's defense has been up and down. They shut down teams like Florida and South Carolina, but got busted by strong offenses like Georgia. If stats are any indication, they should do just fine against an ACC team like Virginia.

The Young Michael Rocco mans the ship as QB for Virginia. The Cavaliers signal caller is only a sophomore, but has shown signs of the potential for a strong future. He completed 71% of his passes for 238 yards and a TD against Florida State in the penultimate game of the year. Rocco should get plenty of help from the RB tandem of Kevin Parks and Perry Jones. They combined to gain 1,554 and 13 TDs in 2011.

The Virginia defense has been strong against the run, but weak against the pass. That could provide an advantage for a desperate Auburn team that could take to the skies.

One might think Auburn would be disappointed with this bowl after winning the National Championship last year. But, considering they lost just about every key starter from that squad, landing in any bowl this season has to be looked at as an accomplishment.

We like Virginia in this game for several reason. Let's start with their performance on the road this year. Virginia was 4-1 on the road this season and can count wins at Miami and at Florida State among those. Those are a couple of quality road wins against good teams. Auburn was 1-4 on the road this year. In fact, if you look at the yards per point numbers, you'll find both teams very poor offensively. Virginia's ypp number on the road was 17 but they made up for that with a respectable 17 defensively. Auburn's offensive yards per point number on the road was 23 while their defensive number was 12.7. Horrendous. Auburn was outscored on the road to the tune of 36-14.

If you made a yards per point line using strictly away games, Virginia would be favored by about 10 points. We can get into strength of schedule on the road, but again, remember, Virginia beat Florida State and Miami, both on the road.

The loss of Dyer is also key. Auburn already had it's work cut out for them going up against Virginia's 34th ranked run defense. Now they'll have to do it without their star running back.

The performance of both teams on the road, the loss of Dyer, the fact that this is a veteran Virginia squad going up against a young Auburn team, all point towards Virginia. The cherry on top would be that our score prediction model likes Virginia straight up by a score of 24-21. The line move from pk to -3 also places the value squarely on the Virginia side. Virginia +3

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