What to watch: Chick-fil-A and Music City bowls
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
A few things to watch as the first SEC teams kick off their portion of the bowl season on New Year's Eve. Vanderbilt takes on Boston College in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET), and LSU faces Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET):
1. Angry or apathetic?: LSU coach Les Miles has talked a lot about how the Tigers are ready to come out and fight in this bowl game, how they're primed and ready to put a bow on an otherwise disappointing season. Honestly, it's been a while since we've seen that version of the Tigers. The defending national champions enter the matchup with Georgia Tech having lost three of their last four games. If they're genuinely ready to get it on, this has a chance to be one of the more interesting bowl games. If they're ready to get it over with, the Yellow Jackets and everybody else in the Georgia Dome may be asking what the rushing record is by the start of the second half. Remember, the last time the Yellow Jackets and their triple-option offense faced an SEC defense, they rolled up 409 rushing yards against Georgia to end the regular season.
2. Defensive distractions: The LSU defense didn't play very well this season when there were no distractions. But the Tigers go into this game knowing one co-defensive coordinator, Bradley Dale Peveto, is headed to Northwestern State, where he's been named the head coach, while the other co-defensive coordinator, Doug Mallory, is headed to New Mexico to be the Lobos' defensive coordinator. It's called finding other employment before you're demoted or fired, and both of the Tigers' embattled co-defensive coordinators did just that. Now that they're on their way out and everybody knows so, let's see how an LSU defense that gave up 30 or more points in its last three games responds.
3. Proving ground for Eagles: Talk about a battle of bowl neophytes vs. bowl veterans. Boston College will be gunning for its ninth straight bowl victory, the longest such streak in the country. This is the Eagles' 10th straight bowl appearance. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is making its first bowl appearance in 26 years. Nothing against the Music City Bowl, but you know the Eagles had hoped for more this year, losing for the second straight year in the ACC Championship Game. They've just missed on some chances to land BCS berths in recent years and are annually passed over by other bowls because their fans don't typically travel well. Will they be determined to prove they deserve better, or will they be bummed to even be in the Music City in the first place?
4. Quarterback carousel: Who won't line up at quarterback for the Commodores? Senior Chris Nickson will likely get the start, but he's been wildly inconsistent this season. In his defense, he hasn't been the same since hurting his throwing shoulder, the same injury that plagued him all of last season. Junior Mackenzi Adams was strong in relief several times this season and took over the starting duties toward the end of the season, but he went down with injuries to his knee and chest. Redshirt freshman Larry Smith showed enough promise in the regular-season finale against Wake Forest that Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson has said that Smith will figure into the mix in the bowl game. Smith's reps during the pre-Christmas practices went up considerably. Boston College has its own issues at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Dominique Davis will be making just his third career start after taking over for injured fifth-year senior Chris Crane. Davis threw a pair of interceptions in the ACC Championship Game loss to Virginia Tech.
5. Points at a premium: The first team to 20 is probably going to win this one. Boston College is sixth nationally in total defense, so few teams have taken the ball and driven it down the Eagles' throats. The Commodores haven't driven it down anybody's throat in a long time. They had a terrible time scoring points after starting out 5-0 this season. In fact, they were held to 14 or fewer points in seven of their last eight games. In addition to the uncertainty at quarterback, Vanderbilt is also shorthanded at running back. Jamie Graham, a receiver and return specialist this season, could see most of his time in the backfield depending on how much Jared Hawkins is able to play. There's also All-America cornerback D.J. Moore, who's proven he can make plays wherever the Commodores put him.