Virginia Football: Latest Chick-Fil-a Bowl News and Updates
Virginia football fans are still coming to grips with the reality that they get to finish their season in Atlanta against the Auburn Tigers in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
An 8-4 season is nice, but a nine-win season would be the most since 2003 for Virginia. A win over an SEC team would be the cherry on top to a comeback season.
On the other hand, a second straight loss, particularly a big one like the Virginia Tech debacle, could really hurt morale going into the recruiting season.
Therefore, the Cavaliers are not looking at this as a fun trip. They are coming to win and impress a nation-wide audience as it is the only bowl game on during the time slot.
How are they preparing?
What else is going on during this seemingly dead period?
Let us look at some of the important updates for the Virginia program as we head into this bowl.
A Sea of Orange?
If you go to the Virginia Sports official website, you can see a graphic charting the number of tickets officially sold to Cavalier fans.
We all know that teams support matters to bowl officials. They want to make sure fans will travel.
If you don't believe me, ask Michigan and Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers need strong fan support not only to help motivate the players but to motivate other bowl committees in the future to give coach Mike London's crew a chance.
As of December 10th, Virginia has over 13,000 tickets sold and they're looking like they might just make their goal of 18,000.
By the way, they are also 5,000 tickets ahead of a certain school in Blacksburg, Virginia with a fanbase known for their traveling fans.
New Uniform Pairing?
Coach Mike London officially announced Virginia would be sporting orange jerseys for the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
That is nothing new, considering that orange seems to be the color of choice this season at home. However, assistant athletic director Jon Oliver said there could be a "twist" this time around.
Given London's plain "orange" message, some are wondering if the Cavaliers could go all orange or even orange with white pants.
If so, the typical blue Virginia helmets might be an odd choice. As a result, Virginia's new uniform could be an homage to the past with the classic white helmets that the Cavaliers sported in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It would make sense; London is trying to connect the current Virginia program to the past. In fact, former Cavalier quarterback Shawn Moore is on the current coaching staff.
Maybe he gave the coach a few fashion tips.
On one hand, fashion is something usually left to the Bravo or Lifetime Networks, but a classy allusion to the past may make a symbolic statement: Virginia football is back!
After all, the last time Virginia wore the throwback jerseys was against Mike London when he was coaching at Richmond.
Stefon Diggs on the Radar of Both Teams
Virginia surprised everyone when they racked in a top-25 recruiting class last season.
Many wonder just how much this 8-4 season can boost the profile of the Cavaliers this time around. Well, one of the Cavaliers' main targets will certainly have his eye on the Chick-fil-A Bowl, as he has scholarship offers from both teams playing in it.
Stefon Diggs, the No. 1 player in the state of Maryland and eighth in the country according to Rivals, has both Virginia and Auburn in his final eight schools.
Diggs has entertained offers from 33 schools from Notre Dame to New Mexico.
If Virginia were to win this highly prized recruit, you better believe more people will begin paying attention to the Cavaliers. Last season, Virginia appeared to be one of the final two options for linebacker Curtis Grant.
Grant eventually chose Ohio State and left Cavaliers fans disappointed. However, a speed demon like Diggs could make Virginia fans quickly forget.
Diggs had an official visit to Cal and is going to Ohio State.
That means Virginia will have to make its statement in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Quarterback Michael Rocco has played well since becoming the unquestioned starter and if he can throw on an SEC defense, Diggs cannot help but pay attention.
With his potential to stretch the field and really give Virginia a potent offense in 2012, the Cavaliers could care less where he is going as long as he lands in Charlottesville.
Chase Minnifield Seeking Redemption/Validation
Senior cornerback Chase Minnifield is earning accolades with every passing day.
Arguably the best player on the Virginia football team, Minnifield has already been credited as a Pop Warner National Award winner, an All-ACC player and a CBS Sports All-American.
However, none of that is on Minnifield's mind as he prepares for his first bowl season in his collegiate career.
Minnifield has been a shut-down corner all year long, so much so that opponents rarely dare take him on. His ability to take away half the field has been a big factor in Virginia's success.
On the other hand, Minnifield's strong play disappeared in the biggest game of the season. Virginia Tech dared to challenge him early on and, unfortunately, he faltered.
Minnifield had two pass interference calls and was uncharacteristically shaky on the big stage, sorrowing what was turning into a dream season.
All the post-season awards in the world will not make up for an opportunity to play in the ACC Championship game.
Still, Minnifield gets once more chance to end his Virginia career on a high against the Tigers.
Minnifield is second on the team with three interceptions and is looking for at least one more against an Auburn passing attack which has thrown up 13 picks in 12 games this season.
The Cavalier secondary has been hit-or-miss but have made some big plays in big moments.
Can Minnifield complete his career with a fitting departure?
Auburn's Defense Loses a Coordinator
Auburn may have lost a coordinator but Tiger fans do not seem blue.
In fact, although Wikipedia has since erased it, I found this little tidbit at the end of the entry for defensive coordinator and former Duke head coach Ted Roof:
"Auburn is glad to be rid of Roof, as anyone who's played a few dozen games of NCAA football can coach a defense better than him."
Roof packed his bags to go work for his former mentor George O'Leary at the University of Central Florida.
Now on one hand, this may sound like a demotion, and it is.
Roof led a defense that was 78th in the country, averaging over 400 yards per game, and although this will require some tweaking in the coaching staff, Auburn's defense may actually do better come bowl time.
Virginia is one of the better rushing teams in the country but could only muster a few yards against Florida State and Virginia Tech.
While Auburn has been porous on defense, their athleticism could create matchup problems for the Cavaliers if they could fill up those holes.
Virginia will look to its big offensive line to pound the Auburn defense into submission once more this season, but everyone knows that will be much easier said than done.
Michael Dyer's Suspension
Teams have had a hard time stopping All-SEC running back Michael Dyer all year long.
Fortunately for Virginia, Auburn has taken care of that problem for them.
Dyer, a sophomore who has amassed 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns this season will be suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl according to multiple reports for undisclosed reasons.
Already 10th on Auburn's career rushing list in just two seasons with the Tigers, the loss is a big blow to the team, but Virginia cannot rest on its laurels.
Sometimes teams that face this kind of adversity become even more motivated to play well in the bowl game.
The second highest rusher on the team is Onterio McCalebb, who has 532 yards on just 102 attempts this season. Expect Auburn to use multiple backs in the bowl game and hopefully Virginia's front seven can continue to contain the run and not revert back to some of their old habits.
Dyer's loss may be a big one, but it is by no means a death sentence for the Tigers.
Matt Snyder's Return
Some good news on the injury front for Virginia: expect the return of senior wide receiver Matt Snyder.
Snyder had one sporadic season before an injury cost him the final six games of the regular season.
As one of the bigger targets on the field, quarterback Michael Rocco looked for the former walk-on early and often. In some games, that meant momentum-crushing drops, but as the season progressed Snyder's hands got better and better.
Before the injury, Snyder had 19 receptions for 220 yards and really seemed to be a crucial part of the passing game.
Although Rocco has begun to develop some other receivers, Snyder and Kris Burd represent the most sure-handed, reliable wide outs.
Having them both in the game is crucial, for they can provide safety blankets against Auburn's pass defense and allow speedy Tim Smith to do what he does best and stretch the field some.
Snyder wants his season to finish the right way and Virginia's first bowl victory since 2005 would do just that.
The Good, the Bad and the Special Teams
Virginia's special teams this season has been nerve-wracking for Cavalier fans.
Field goal kicker Robert Randolph has been hot or cold all season, going from eight-of-eight in the first two games to three-of-eight in the next five games.
Even more frustrating has been the punt return game, by far the weakest part of Virginia's team.
True freshman Domonique Terrell has had more fumbles or muffs than he has had big plays as the punt returner. So much so that he was eventually demoted for "Mr. Everything" Perry Jones.
Jones though, despite the good return against Duke on his first official attempt of the season, has been rather inconsistent himself. A couple of times his decision to pick up a live ball has resulted in unnecessary hits and worse field advantage than just letting it go.
Corner back Chase Minnifield has been the safest option but also the least explosive.
Auburn, on the other hand, is a dangerous special teams unit and could score some points in that phase of the game on December 31st.
Virginia knows it could be in a tight contest and cannot afford to give away points on special teams.
Therefore, Randolph will have to be on point, and whoever is carrying the ball on returns must remember the Hippocratic Oath: first do no harm.
If the Cavaliers can avoid mistakes, they will be ahead of the game on special teams.