Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Tennessee (7-5)
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Virginia Tech take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Virginia Tech is no stranger to the city of Atlanta, as this is the third time this season the Hokies will play there, and the second time they’ll face an SEC team in the Georgia Dome. Hokies fans are probably hoping the third time is the charm, as Virginia Tech lost to both Alabama and Georgia Tech in the city during the regular season. Tennessee, though, hasn’t seen that kind of success under Lane Kiffin yet, and No. 12 Virginia Tech should be favored heading into this game.
That’s due in large part to the Hokies’ defense, which is holding opponents to just 15.75 points per game, and the offensive star power of redshirt freshman Ryan Williams, who is fifth in the country in rushing yards per game, third in total rushing yards and tied for third in rushing touchdowns. He has had nine 100-yard rushing games this year.
Tennessee is one of four 7-5 teams in a muddled group in the SEC East, and statistically, the Vols have been average in just about every category but one this year -- pass efficiency defense. Tennessee is No. 8 in the country, allowing just 99.98 yards per game. Vols running backs coach Eddie Gran better get used to seeing this defense, as he’ll be joining Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher’s staff eventually.
Tennessee take by SEC blogger Chris Low: There has been talk for several years now about possibly matching Tennessee and Virginia Tech for a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway. There won’t be any fumes or tire tread to speak of, but the Vols and Hokies will meet for the first time since Peyton Manning's freshman season at Tennessee in 1994.
Lane Kiffin proved in the buildup to his first season at Tennessee that he could talk a good game, but his Vols won some respect around the league with how tough, how hard-nosed and how disciplined they were on the field. Monte Kiffin’s defense was the backbone of this club, although the Vols didn’t play as well on that side of the ball at the end of the season when they lost a few players to injury and/or suspension.
Senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton was one of the most improved players in the league. After a dismal stretch in September, he rebounded to pass for 2,565 yards and 26 touchdowns. Senior running back Montario Hardesty rushed for 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns after being under-utilized by the previous staff.
The Vols had some quality losses this year to Alabama and Florida and had the Crimson Tide beat if they could kick a field goal. What they need to make this a successful first season under Kiffin is a quality win, and taking down Frank Beamer and the Hokies would certainly qualify.