|VIRGINIA TECH (9-3) vs. TENNESSEE (7-5)
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Some have wondered if the 12th-ranked Hokies will be fully motivated to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 against Tennessee.
After all, Virginia Tech had much higher goals than the Atlantic Coast Conference's No. 2 bowl game -- like a spot in the Bowl Championship Series, if not the national title game.
But Hokies players firmly believe they'll be ready for this game, citing their desire for the program's sixth consecutive 10-win season as well as a win over a Southeastern Conference program.
"This is a very good example to showcase our talent and show what the ACC has talent-wise," quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "In the ACC, we know we have a lot of talent, and we are just looking to go out there and prove it."
Taylor's continued ability to hit deep passes and make key plays with his feet will be tested by a Volunteers defense that has ranked among the top 20 nationally despite a rash of injuries that has robbed it of depth at linebacker and in the secondary.
Defensively, Virginia Tech must improve against the run or Tennessee could get a big game from Montario Hardesty. The senior tailback ran for 1,306 yards and a dozen touchdowns, earning All-SEC honors.
The Hokies also want to use this game as a springboard to 2010, when they will return nine starters to an offense that should be even better.
"It will kind of sum up our season if we can get a win, finish with 10 wins and (finish) as a top-10 team," linebacker Cody Grimm said.
Normally, the loss of two assistant coaches prior to a bowl game would rank as big news. For the Volunteers, it's merely a blip compared to the latest controversy surrounding coach Lane Kiffin's program.
The NCAA is reviewing the activities of Orange Pride, a student organization comprised primarily of women, two of whom drove close to 200 miles to attend a high school game in South Carolina featuring two players committed to UT, as well as another player whom Kiffin is recruiting.
If it's determined the trip was paid for by the school, it could be construed as a major violation by the NCAA, the type of goof for which many Kiffin haters around the SEC have been waiting.
Assuring Tennessee fans that the program has done nothing illegal, Kiffin is taking his team through the early stages of preparation for the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia Tech on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
"I think the guys have come out with great energy," Kiffin said after practice on Dec. 11. "They understand the importance -- we have team meetings every day to make sure they understand -- that we have a great practice."
Assistants Eddie Gran and Frank Wilson are leaving for Florida State and LSU, respectively, leaving the Vols two coaches short for the bowl game. Kiffin said those spots won't be filled until January.
While the circumstances aren't ideal, UT and its fans are excited about the bowl trip, particularly since it didn't go to a bowl game last year.
The school sold out all 17,500 of its tickets and probably could have sold twice as many. Now, it's up to their team to produce a performance that proves the controversy du jour wasn't a distraction.
Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor vs. Tennessee SS Eric Berry.
Odds are that Berry will be a "spy" against the mobile Taylor, who's improved as a passer but can break a defense's back with his scrambling. Berry is a hard-hitting, sure-tackling, two-time All-American who will look to finish his college career with a bang.
Virginia Tech's pass rush vs. Tennessee's pass protection.
With DEs Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown, as well as LB Cody Grimm, the Hokies can bring heat from everywhere. But the Volunteers allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC, a prime reason why QB Jonathan Crompton suddenly blossomed into a viable threat in the last seven games.
Virginia Tech's special teams vs. Tennessee's kick coverage.
KR Dyrell Roberts led the nation in yards per return for part of the season, while PR Jayron Hosley was equally dangerous. The Vols were shaky at times covering kicks, exasperating coach Lane Kiffin. A similar performance in this game could mean a Virginia Tech victory.
NAMES TO KNOW
TB Ryan Williams -- The redshirt freshman has rushed for 100 or more yards nine times this year, finishing the regular season with 1,538 yards and 20 touchdowns. He needs just 110 yards to own the school record for most rushing yards in a year.
QB Tyrod Taylor -- He's accomplished his goal of becoming a better passer. Still a threat to make big plays with the feet, Taylor is now a better thrower on deep routes, giving the offense much-needed balance.
DE Jason Worilds -- A junior who never takes a play off, Worilds generates consistent pressure on the passer and holds up pretty well against the run. Worilds tied for the team lead in sacks despite drawing his share of double teams.
LB Cody Grimm -- The ACC leader in forced fumbles, Grimm tied an Football Bowl Subdivision mark by forcing three fumbles in the first quarter Nov. 21 against North Carolina State. Grimm was a first team All-ACC pick after leading the team in tackles.
TB Montario Hardesty -- The senior rushed for a team-high 1,306 yards and scored a dozen touchdowns, leading the offense to respectability. Hardesty has been a workhorse, averaging 22 carries per game.
QB Jonathan Crompton -- Over the last seven games, Crompton has turned from reviled to respected, becoming one of the SEC's top quarterbacks. He finished his senior season with 26 touchdown passes.
LB Rico McCoy -- The senior has been one of the SEC's top linebackers, consistently recording double-figure tackles since the loss of MLB Nick Reveiz. McCoy will be particularly motivated to end his career with a bang.
SS Eric Berry -- The junior will be stoked in what figures to be his last game. Berry is an Atlanta-area product and will want to put on a good show, which might include setting the NCAA record for most career interception yardage.
- LB Zach Luckett (knee), who's been excellent on kick coverage this year, blew out his ACL and MCL in the season finale at Virginia on Nov. 28. He will miss the bowl game as well as spring practice.
- RB Darren Evans (knee) is stepping up his rehabilitation and should be ready to go in spring practice in March. Evans rushed for 1,265 yards as a freshman last year, and he should team with Ryan Williams to form the nation's top tailback tandem in 2010.
- CB Marsalous Johnson (thumb) returned for the season finale at Kentucky after missing the previous three games. Johnson adds depth to a secondary that's been ravaged by injuries.
- DT Wes Brown (knees) has played all year despite nagging pain that has often kept him from practicing. The month off between the season finale and the bowl game should help him be more productive.
TSX PICKS: Virginia Tech 16-7