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Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011

Auburn football Chick-fil-A Bowl preview capsule: Closer look at Tigers vs. Virginia Cavaliers

- jerickson@ledger-enquirer.com
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CHICK-FIL-A BOWL

Auburn vs. Virginia, 7:30 p.m. today (ESPN, WVRK-FM 102.9)

Line: Auburn by 3.

Series record: The series is tied 1-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Momentum. Gene Chizik credits Auburn’s win in the Outback Bowl two years ago with laying the groundwork for the Tigers’ run to the 2010 national championship, and another win could be the boost a young roster needs heading into an offseason full of change. For Virginia, a win over an SEC team would help boost the Cavaliers’ profile as Mike London tries to build a rising program in the ACC.

KEY MATCHUP

Auburn cornerback Jermaine Whitehead vs. Virginia wide receiver Kris Burd. Burd, who frequently works out of the slot, led the Cavaliers with 60 catches for 810 yards and a touchdown this season. In the slot, he will frequently be lined up against Whitehead, a true freshman who had 29 tackles and an interception this season. If Whitehead can limit Burd’s impact, Virginia’s passing game may struggle.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Auburn: RB Tre Mason. A true freshman, Mason saw most of his action as a kickoff return specialist this season, but he may play a key role in the Chick-fll-A Bowl with leading rusher Michael Dyer serving a suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Mason, who had 97 yards on 19 carries, will have to help make up for Dyer’s absence.

Virginia: CB Chase Minnifield. His status is up in the air due to an undisclosed injury, but the versatility he brings to the field could wreak havoc on Auburn’s offense if he can go. Minnifield, an All-ACC pick, made 50 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions this season.

FACTS & FIGURES

Auburn is riding a four-game winning streak in bowls. All four games were decided by three points. … Virginia has not played an SEC opponent since playing South Carolina in 2003. … The Tigers’ last three bowl appearances have all ended on last-second scoring plays. … All five starters on Virginia’s offensive line started every game at the same position. Only one Auburn lineman, center Reese Dismukes, can say the same.

--Joel A. Erickson

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