This time a year ago SEC Champion Auburn went into the bowl season with a lot at stake. A January date with PAC 12 Champion Oregon meant conference pride was on the line. In addition Auburn was finally playing for the BCS Championship after having been denied the opportunity despite being the only SEC school to have 3 undefeated seasons in the past 17 years. Stakes don't get any higher than that.
This year Auburn may not be playing on the big stage but this team nevertheless has a lot to play for in the 2011 Chik-fil-a Bowl. The following are some pressing questions the bowl will present for the Tigers:
Will Auburn finish with a Top 25 ranking?
Auburn is a team that was picked in the preseason to finish at the bottom of the SEC, yet completed the season with a 4-4 SEC record and finished the year ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings.
That ranking is a result of the young Tigers having played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Their five losses were to teams ranked N0. 1, 2, 7, 10, and 16. So the first thing at stake Saturday night is will the Tigers maintain their top 25 ranking?
Will the Tigers protect conference pride?
Carrying the SEC banner in any match up with a non conference team is always a big responsibility for an SEC school. That responsibility is magnified during the bowl season when the nation is keeping score on which conferences have the best record after all the bowls are played. Last year the SEC bowl record was 5-5 but the SEC West was 4-1 .
How will Gus Malzahn do in his last game at Auburn?
Will Auburn's offense finally look like the typical Malzahn offense? Will the new Arkansas State Head Coach be vanilla in his play calling or will he throw the kitchen sink at Virginia?
Can Auburn's running game be effective without the SEC's second leading rusher?
Will the defense show improvement?
Auburn's defensive linemen will have to stop a potent Virginia rushing attack. The Caviliers have three outstanding running backs in Kevin Parks, Clifton Richardson, and Perry Jones - the latter of which is considered the Cavalier's superman. And if the Tiger D can slow down Jones and Parks then an even bigger question may be, 'Can the, up to now porous, secondary find a way to prevent the Cavaliers from having success in the passing game? '
Which Quarterback will get the most snaps?
Will one Auburn QB firmly establish himself as the undisputed leader of the offense? Will Clint Mosely look like the field general that he did against Ole Miss? Or will as a true dual threat and position himself to take over the offense in the Spring? finally come in to his own
Will Auburn get the victory and add to their three year win record?
All bowl games are a time for teams to develop younger players but Chizik said the other day, that the main goal is to win the Tigers' eighth game. "Obviously, we would like to take any extra time that we have to develop the rest of our football team," Chizik said. "But at the end of the day, we've got one goal and that is to win our eighth game."
The Tigers could use the eighth victory to head in to Spring camp on a positive note. A victory would also give the Tigers their 30th win in three seasons. Gene Chizik's 29 wins are already an Auburn record for a coach's first three seasons on the job but 30 would be icing on the cake for the 2010 National Coach of the Year.
A Chik- fil- a Bowl victory would further improve that record, it would help answer a lot of the questions mentioned above, and more importantly it would give the Tigers momentum heading into next year.
I believe these Tigers can do it and I plan to be there to watch them do it... See you at the Dome.