The Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup recently announced pitting the surprising Virginia Cavaliers (8-4) against the defending national champion Auburn Tigers (7-5) presents some of the most intriguing storylines you'll see the entire bowl season.
Let's begin with this history of the bowl as it relates to the UVA program:
Virginia's first bowl appearance occurred in Atlanta in 1984, when Hall of Fame coach George Welsh led UVA to an exciting 27-24 victory over a Purdue team that had finished second in the competitive Big Ten.
Over a decade later (1995), Virginia was back, this time after an impressive season that saw the Hoos hand No. 2 Florida State its first ever ACC loss, bringing the tally to 29-1 since the 'Noles joined the conference (the Noles had actually won 47 straight in-conference matchups, 29 since joining the ACC), the game itself being decided by a goal-line stand in the waning seconds. That game featured 62 would-be pro players, the most of any ACC game in history—30 from Virginia and 32 from FSU.*
The bowl game against the home-favorite Georgia Bulldogs provided an equally remarkable finish to a wild contest as the Hoos returned a kickoff 83 yards with 57 seconds left in regulation, winning 34-27.
In a rematch between the two school (UVA and UGA) just three years later in 1998 (December), Virginia built a seemingly insurmountable three-TD lead fairly quickly, but couldn't keep the momentum going, and Georgia got sweet revenge with a thrilling comeback to beat the Cavaliers 35-33 as the Virginia kicker missed a 48-yarder in the waning seconds.
To note: Auburn has also played some real nail-biters in the Georgia Dome over the years, beating Indiana 27-23 in 1990, outlasting rival Clemson 21-17 in 1998 (January), lost a close one to the UNC Tar Heels 16-10 in 2001, took down the Tennessee Vols 27-14 in 2004, and in a rematch of their own knocked off rival Clemson in OT 23-20 in 2007.
Let's just say that when these two programs have come a knockin' the Georgia Dome has been a 'rockin with some incredible games. I expect this game to be just as exciting.
Apart from the two teams' storied history with the bowl itself, there are plenty of facts that make this year's matchup particularly fascinating.
Both coaches have won national championships
Gene Chizik obviously took the Tigers to BCS glory last year with the dynamic Cam Newton paving the way. Mike London took the Richmond Spiders to their first FCS National Championship (2008), and nearly repeated the following season. Both have received various national and conference Coach of the Year awards in their young coaching tenures.
Both teams are in "rebuilding" seasons, but have earned some significant pelts along the way
Auburn beat a very good No. 10 South Carolina team 16-13 in Columbia. Virginia shocked the ACC by upending previously unbeaten and then-No. 12th Georgia Tech 24-21 (even after scoring zero second-half points), and beating No. 25 Florida State in Tallahassee for the first time in school history in arguably one of the wildest finishes in college football history.
Both teams took their lumps as well, getting blasted by their arch-rivals
UVA lost to VT 38-0 and the Tigers succumbed to the Crimson Tide 42-14 (neither TD coming on offense). Let's just say each team has something to prove after an embarrassing way to end the season.
There's a youth movement happening at both schools
It has provided fans exactly what they should expect from such an occurrence: maddening inconsistency.
The Hoos were impressive on the road going 4-1, albeit against much weaker competition than the Tigers, but also laid some eggs (UNC, Southern Miss, N.C. State) as the quarterback controversy dragged on until the staff fortuitously decided to stake the rest of the season on one QB: Michael Rocco. Auburn struggled to get any kind of momentum going while running through the gauntlet of 7 ranked teams (many of which were top-10).
For a full analysis on the game, larger implications, and what Hoos fans can expect, tune in next week for a much more in-depth look at the the matchup between these two teams. One thing I do know for sure: a team in orange and blue will emerge victorious.
*Information pertaining to # of eventual pro-players and FSU's conference-winning streak can be found in the Virginiasports.com preview for this year's matchup with Florida State. Here's the link: http://www.virginiasports.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=88791&SPID=10606&DB_OEM_ID=17800&ATCLID=205333171