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Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011

Auburn football: Chick-fil-A Bowl marks end of rebuilding year for Tigers

- jerickson@ledger-enquirer.com
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ATLANTA -- Two teams with very different histories are set to face off in the Chick-fil-A-Bowl at 7:30 tonight in the Georgia Dome.

Only a year removed from winning the national championship, Auburn (7-5) is making its third straight trip to a bowl game after a rebuilding year marked by the team’s youth and a sense of change surrounding the team.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will leave after the Chick-fil-A Bowl to take over the head coaching job at Arkansas State, former defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for Central Florida, and All-SEC running back Michael Dyer is suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

“With the departure of a lot of older, more experienced players, we embarked on a new season with some inexperience,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “Not an excuse. It is what it is.”

Chizik, who is filling Roof’s role as the defensive coordinator, may give Auburn an advantage.

In all of his years as a coach, Chizik has never lost a bowl game.

“You’ve got to know the personality of your football team,” Chizik said. “You’ve got to know what they can and can’t do.”

Virginia (8-4), on the other hand, is a program hoping its first bowl appearance since 2007 is the start of a new level of success under second-year coach Mike London, a former FCS coach who won a national title at Richmond.

“It’s a learned experience that when you play well on the road -- crowd noise, weather, whatever it is -- that becomes kind of a boost for you mentally,” London said.

Plenty of people will be in the stands tonight. The Chick-fil-A Bowl is a sellout for the 15th straight season.

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