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Auburn Turns Attention to Virginia

As most of us finished up Christmas dinner tonight and opened the final gifts of 2011, Auburn players reported for duty in Atlanta in preparation for Saturday's Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Virginia. The Tigers will hold its first bowl practice tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. on the Georgia Dome turf.

Auburn's been in some interesting bowl games over the years and nothing will ever top last year; but this week's contest may take the cake for most weird. In a season where nobody expected this team to win seven games, the media has spent the last month doing its best to paint the program as one in turmoil.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's departure has pretty much been a foregone conclusion since the clock ran out in Glendale last January. Yet his exodus has many media members screaming instability to anyone who'll listen.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof's hastened move to Central Florida came as no surprise. It became apparent as the year progressed that he and Gene Chizik had differing philosophies on how to play defense.

Throw in the suspension of running back Michael Dyer and the flip-flop of top recruit T.J. Yeldon and suddenly everyone seems to have forgotten where Auburn stood a year ago.

With that as the backdrop, the Tigers prepares to face an unknown foe in 8-4 Virginia. The biggest question this week is how Auburn will respond. Will they be excited and ready to play or more inclined to call it a year?

After two consecutive debilitating losses to its biggest rivals, it's hard to get a feel for Saturday. Auburn coaches continue to say all the right things and insist this team is motivated to play.

History suggests the game could be a struggle.

Playing in the 2001 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Auburn came out flat and struggled mightily in a 16-10 loss to North Carolina. This came after consecutive losses to Alabama (31-7) and LSU (27-14) to end the regular season.

This time around things feel different. The bulk of Auburn starters will be starting in a bowl game for the first time. Despite the spotlight of a year ago, these guys will be excited.

The offense wants to send Malzahn out a winner and Chizik surely wants to prove he still knows a thing or two about defense. In other words, don't look for a letdown.

Once the ball is kicked, all eyes will be on quarterbacks Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier. Who will get most of the snaps? Will a breakout performance put one of them in the driver's seat heading to spring practice?

What this game lacks in sex appeal nationally, is made up by the intrigue on the Auburn side of the ball. So here we go. Another bowl season is upon us. It may not be Glendale, but it sure beats sitting at home.

Don't believe me? Ask Tommy Tuberville.