No such fanfare accompanied Auburn’s last practice.
Without question, the two schools bring different perspectives into tonight’s Chick-fil-A Bowl in the Georgia Dome.
For 8-4 Virginia, it’s a chance to top off one of the most successful seasons in school history.
For 7-5 Auburn, one year removed from winning a BCS title, it’s a chance to end a disappointing season on a positive note and hopefully provide a springboard for better things to come next year.
Even so, it doesn’t necessarily mean one team wants to win more than the other.
“Obviously you want to end your year with a win,” said Auburn coach Gene Chizik. “This is an opportunity for us to do that. The momentum that it can give you as far as propelling you into next season, that’s big too. We know that two years ago, it certainly helped us when we won the Outback Bowl. I don’ think it’s a deal breaker on what that means for your next season, but it certainly gives you momentum when you win.”
For Virginia, tonight is almost as good as it gets. The Cavaliers are 7-10 in bowl games since going to their first one in 1984.
Virginia’s only appearance in a major bowl came in 1991 when the Cavaliers lost to Tennessee 23-22 in the Sugar Bowl.
“Being on the spotlight, being on the stage, Chick-fil-A Bowl, playing a great team like Auburn, is where you want to be,” said Virginia coach Mike London. “That’s the goal of the program.”
That doesn’t mean that London, in his second season as head coach, doesn’t aspire to greater things for the Cavaliers.
“I think anytime you can play on a national scale with a team of a national reputation as Auburn, compete and play well, it’s always going to help you,” he said. “With young players that are presented an opportunity like this, I mean, it can do nothing but help us. Once you get a taste of it, you want to continue to keep building on these opportunities.”
The Tigers are 21-13-2 in bowl games and own two national titles. A victory over Virginia can give Auburn an unprecedented 30 victories in three years.
Yet, with such a young team, it’s still mostly about building toward next year for the Tigers. Of the 79 players on Auburn’s roster, 51 are underclassmen.
“That’s huge for us,” said sophomore linebacker Jake Holland. “It carries over to the offseason, gives us momentum, gets some experience for the players that will help them next year. It’s really big to come out and play well in this bowl game.”
Chizik will definitely have an eye on his younger players in tonight’s game.
“This is kind of their pre-spring practice if you will,” he said. “We expect them to come out here and be farther along than they were four weeks ago. They’ve had rest and time to get away from football and then take it all back in and it’s their second time doing it. I think a lot of our young guys are getting better with the extra practice time a bowl game provides.”
Even some of Auburn’s seniors are thinking about the Tigers’ future.
“To set the tone for the next year’s group, that’s what I’m working for,” said senior linebacker Eltoro Freeman. “Like I said, I’m dedicating this game to every Auburn fan in America, and I just want to go out there and set the tone for the guys for next year.”