By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicked off Dec. 19, with 34 games being played in a three-week span.
Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving the recruiting that soon follows.
The Sportmeisters will preview each of the games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31, 7:30 PM, Atlanta, GA
Tennessee (7-5) vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech (9-3)
Tennessee definitely had the biggest offseason, thanks to the mouth of their new coach, Lane Kiffin. Kiffin took shots at anyone and everyone, expecting big results. He got some, but not to the level of his brash boasting.
A few moral victories, considering of three losses were by four or less points, is nice, but the W’s are what count. Tennessee didn’t hit .500 until Halloween, when they upset South Carolina to get up to 4-4. That started the Volunteers, who won four of their last five, to get up to 7-5.
Tennessee made some big jumps offensively from where they were in 2008, but they are still sitting near the middle of the pack.
They do score frequently, ranking 32nd in points per game with 30.58. Senior RB Montario Hardesty got over previous injuries to rush for 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 108 yard-per-game average ranks him 19th in NCAA FBS.
Senior QB Jonathon Crompton started off slow, but turned up the heat at the same time as Tennessee. He threw for 2,565 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Defensively, Kiffin brought in dad Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator. The elder Kiffin, famous for his “Tampa 2” scheme, wasted no time bringing it to Knoxville.
What followed was a defense that finished 18th in total yards (308.83 yards a game) and 10th in pass defense (165.92 yards a game).
The most widely heralded player is junior CB Eric Berry, who is expected to turn pro following the game. His numbers are down from 2008, but he still finished with 83 tackles (six for loss), two fumble returns, and two interceptions.
Tennessee plays in a tough conference, and has the ability to step up in a big game and perform above expectations.
About Virginia Tech
Even an opening game loss to Alabama couldn’t stop the Hokies from making a BCS Championship run. They won five in a row, including wins over ranked teams such as Nebraska and Miami, before running into Georgia Tech and their triple option. That knocked them out of the BCS race, and an upset loss to North Carolina the next week destroyed any ACC Championship hopes. Tech bounced back to win four in a row to come into the bowl game at 9-3.
Virginia Tech had extreme expectations for returning sophomore RB Darren Evans, who rushed for an ACC freshman record 1,265 yards. Those expectations took a blow when Evans was lost for the season with an ACL injury.
Enter Freshman RB Ryan Williams, who quickly became the Lou Gehrig to Evans’ Wally Pipp. Williams destroyed the previous record held by Evans, rushing for 1,538 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 128.17 yards a game is fifth in the nation, and he is a big reason the Hokies are 15th in rushing offense in NCAA FBS (206.42 yards a game).
Junior QB Tyrod Taylor is a threat passing or running, and his game management was key for the Hokies. He finished with 2,446 total yards and 17 total touchdowns.
The Virginia Tech defense has one of the most respected coaches in Bud Foster running it. There is a reason for that, too. His defense enters the bowl game 14th in total defense (300.08 yards a game) and 11th in scoring defense (15.75 points a game).
Special notice is to the passing defense, which held opponents to a mere 161.42 yards a game (sixth in NCAA FBS). Senior LB Cody Grimm led the team with 98 tackles (9.5 for loss), three sacks, six forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
Though the defense is down from their standard top-five numbers, they are still a forced to be reckoned with, and have the ability to cause a turnover at any moment.
Tennessee is 25-22 in bowl games, winning their most recent game in 2007.
Virginia Tech is 8-14 in bowl games, winning their 2008 matchup against Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl. They have been to a bowl for 17 straight seasons, though this is their first one since 2006 that it wasn’t a BCS game.
Tennessee holds the series advantage 5-2, meeting last in 1994.
Virginia Tech plans on shoving the ball right down Tennessee’s throat. It’s an attempt to force the safeties (namely, Berry) to move up into a run stopping defense.
This would allow single coverage on the outside for Taylor to throw to a hole in the Tampa 2 zone defense. Taylor only has four interceptions, so don’t expect forced throws, but rather tucking it in and running.
Hardesty will get yards for Tennessee, but look for freshman RB Bryce Brown to get some time and turn heads. Virginia Tech struggles stopping the run, and these two should combine for some big yards. Foster will throw a lot of pressure at Crompton, so mistakes need to be minimal.
Virginia Tech gets pressure on Crompton, forcing turnovers. This will allow Evans a short field to power through for paydirt. Virginia Tech, 34-21.