From 2001-06, ACC football teams won 25 of their 41 bowls. They went a sterling 8-2 against the Big Ten, Pacific 12 and Big 12 combined, a respectable 4-6 versus the Southeastern Conference.
Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?
The subsequent years have been grim, with the ACC enduring five consecutive losing postseasons. The league’s bowl record during that stretch is 15-27, a downtrodden 6-17 against the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC.
Prospects for a reversal in the next three weeks hinge on upsets.
Four of the ACC’s six bowl teams are underdogs, Duke and Georgia Tech by 10-plus points. One of the league’s favorites, Virginia Tech, is a resounding 2-point choice over Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
The lone solid ACC fave is Florida State by 13 over Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.
Not to suggest Vegas knows all. Moreover, given the preposterous lag time between the regular season and most bowls, late December and early January are much more volatile than September, October and November.
For example, how to handicap the head coaching changes affecting half of the ACC’s bowls? Or the injuries known and unknown?
And never forget the party factor. Some players, even teams, are more intent on carousing than practicing at the bowl venue.
Those caveats noted, a look at the ACC’s postseason:
* Duke (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3), Belk Bowl, Dec. 27: The Blue Devils are 0-4 since becoming bowl eligible and have beaten only one FBS team that finished with a winning record, North Carolina. The Bearcats lost coach Butch Jones to Tennessee and are playing for interim Steve Stripling, but they do have the Big East’s leading rusher in George Winn and a dual-threat quarterback in Munchie Legaux.
Cincinnati upset Virginia Tech 27-24 in September. Two weeks later, the Hokies beat Duke 41-20. Draw your own conclusions. The pick: Bearcats, 35-28.
* Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (9-3), Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 28: If you’re looking for pinball-machine, Arizona-Nevada level scoring, best to avert your eyes. The Hokies and Scarlet Knights are stingy on defense, skittish on offense, and the over-under of about 41 points is neck-and-neck with TCU-Michigan State and Alabama-Notre Dame for the lowest this bowl season.
With losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Tech is 0-2 against the Big East this year. As members of that league, the Hokies never finished worse than 5-2 in conference from 1994-2000. Tech is 3-6 in its last nine bowls, and if Mike Teel were still quarterbacking the Scarlet Knights, this would be an easy choice. The pick: Hokies, 17-16, with staff changes to follow in new year.
* North Carolina State (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4), Music City Bowl, Dec. 31: The Wolfpack is playing for an interim coach, the Commodores for history. State fired Tom O’Brien, and offensive coordinator Dana Bible is guiding the team for this game only — former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren is O’Brien’s successor. Vanderbilt has not won nine games in a season since 1915.
The Wolfpack and Mike Glennon rank 20th nationally in passing offense; the Commodores are 10th in pass defense, 15th in scoring defense. The pick: Vandy, 21-17.
* Georgia Tech (6-7) vs. Southern California (7-5), Sun Bowl, Dec. 31: With a losing record and seven consecutive bowl setbacks, the Yellow Jackets richly deserve their underdog status. But two points to consider: Georgia Tech shut out Florida State in the second half of the ACC championship game, and USC is likely to be without quarterback Matt Barkley (right shoulder).
The Trojans began the year atop the national polls but have dropped four of their last five outings. The Yellow Jackets won their last four ACC regular-season games to backdoor into the league title game. Cool historical note courtesy of the conference office: The last time these teams met, in 1973, Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann scored two touchdowns in USC’s victory. The pick: Trojans, 24-21.
* Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2), Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: The landslide winner as the ACC’s most intriguing, challenging and important bowl. LSU is ranked ninth by the Associated Press, and the ACC hasn’t beaten a top-10 SEC squad since this game nine years ago, when Clemson defeated No. 7 Tennessee.
With Tajh Boyd, DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington, Clemson is the most dynamic offense LSU has faced since an October date at Texas A&M. The Tigers intercepted eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel three times and sacked him three times in a 24-19 victory. The pick: LSU, 28-27.
* Florida State (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1), Orange Bowl, Jan. 1: Ranked among the top 10 nationally in every major defensive statistic, the Seminoles must stop Jordan Lynch, who torched Kent State for 212 yards passing and 160 rushing in the Mid-American Conference title contest. They’ll have to do it without coordinator Mark Stoops, who’s the new big whistle at Kentucky.
This is quite the head-coaching debut for the Huskies’ Rod Carey, elevated from offensive coordinator after Doeren’s exit to N.C. State. The pick: FSU, 35-20.
That figures to a 2-4 ACC bowl season. Not what the conference needs, but pretty much what we’ve come to expect.
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