Had everyone in the ACC been eligible for the postseason, the league would have found a way to fill all of its eight bowl tie-ins. But, with North Carolina banned by the NCAA and Miami self-imposing a second consecutive ban, only six ACC teams are bowling this winter.
Remarkably, only three of the teams heading to bowls have winning records: Conference champion Florida State (11-2); Clemson (10-2); and N.C. State (7-5). Virginia Tech and Duke are 6-6 and Georgia Tech, which represented the Coastal Division, which also has UNC and Miami, was approved to play on a bowl despite owning a 6-7 record.
So, this wasn’t exactly a stellar season for ACC football, but the league has one final chance to alter its image with some victories over big-time programs. Here is a quick look at the ACC’s bowl matchups:
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Belk Bowl Duke (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3) Where: Charlotte, NC When: Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m. Quick Look: The Blue Devils will play in their first bowl in 18 seasons and will deal with quite a difficult task taking on the Bearcats. Cincy’s three losses were to teams with a combined 28-8 record and by a combined 16 points. Their loss at Louisville came in overtime. Duke has lost four straight and is allowing 50 points per game in those defeats. Early Favorite: Cincinnati.
Russell Athletic Bowl Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (9-3) Where: Orlando, FL When: Dec. 27, 5:30 p.m. Quick Look: The Scarlet Knights won their first seven games before dropping three of their last five. Rutgers’ offense is ranked No. 96 in scoring and the Hokies are No. 80, so naturally it will be a low scoring game. Think again, bowls like this often go against the grain. With that in mind maybe VPI QB Logan Thomas will have a big game. Early Favorite: Virginia Tech.
Music City Bowl N.C. State (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4) Where: Nashville, TN When: Dec. 31, Noon Quick Look: The irony of this matchup is that Vandy coach James Franklin was once hand-picked by Debbie Yow as the successor to former Maryland coach Ralph Freidgen. Yow, however, is now the athletic director at N.C. State and remains close friends with Franklin. They even texted each other the day before she fired Tom O’Brien as the Wolfpack’s coach. Anyhow, this is an interesting matchup that favors the Commodores mainly because they will essentially be playing at home. Early Favorite: Vanderbilt
Sun Bowl Georgia Tech (6-7) vs. Southern Cal (7-5) Where: El Paso, TX When: 2 p.m. Quick Look: The Trojans grossly underachieved this season despite having QB Matt Barkley back for his senior year. However, the Yellow Jackets needed a waiver to play in a bowl because they have an overall losing record after falling to Florida State in the ACC title game. Trojans should roll. Early Favorite: USC
Chick-fil-A Bowl Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2) Where: Atlanta Time: Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. Quick Look: LSU has one of the nation’s stingiest defenses and Clemson has one of the top offenses. But expect the battle in this game to be won elsewhere, perhaps on special teams. Maybe the most interesting part about this contest will be the different version of “Tiger Rag” played by both bands. This is one ticket that will be worth the price regardless of how the game turns out. Early Favorite: LSU
Orange Bowl Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1) Where: Miami Time: 8:30 p.m. Quick Look: The Huskies are the first ever MAC team to play in a BCS bowl, and they got there by dominating the competition in their league. Their only blemish is a one-point loss to Iowa in Chicago. FSU should blow out NIU, and anything less will be regarded as a negative. It would also reflect poorly on coach Jimbo Fisher, who could use a blowout to soften the criticism being tossed his way. Early Favorite: FSU