This year’s bowl matchups have been set. Thanks to a couple of ACC schools being banned from the postseason, the league’s bowl slate is pretty thin.
A total of six ACC teams are going bowling, and many teams were bumped up a couple of spots because North Carolina and Miami are ineligible for the postseason. Overall, there just don’t appear to be too many intriguing matchups this year.
Florida State defeated Georgia Tech 21-15 in Saturday night’s ACC Championship Game, and their reward is a trip to Miami. However, their opponent isn’t all that interesting. The Noles will take on MAC Champion Northern Illinois, who went 12-1 and defeated Kent State in overtime on Friday night. The Huskies lost their first game of the season 18-17 to Iowa, and haven’t lost since.
How seriously will the Noles take Northern Illinois? How will the Huskies play? In case you didn’t know, NC State hired NIU coach Dave Doeren on Saturday, and he will not coach Northern Illinois in the bowl game. Instead, offensive coordinator Rod Carey will be running the team.
Florida State clearly has more talent in this game. It’s important for the ACC that they show up, play well, and not get upset.
Because of their loss to South Carolina to end the season, Clemson dropped from a possible at-large bid team to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. They’ll face the LSU Tigers on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta. Because of the proximity and size of the Clemson fan base, and the travelling reputation of the LSU faithful, the Georgia Dome should have a great crowd on December 31.
As we all know, the ACC hasn’t fared well against the SEC lately. Clemson narrowly beat a very bad Auburn team to open the season in the Georgia Dome, and then lost by 10 to in-state rival South Carolina to close the season. To top it off, the Gamecocks were missing All-American tailback Marcus Lattimore, and Clemson still couldn’t win.
It would be a big win for the ACC if Clemson could manage to beat LSU. However, history says they won’t.
Georgia Tech played a good game against Florida State on Saturday night. The Yellow Jackets gave the Noles a much better game than expected. That said, they are still a 6-7 football team that had to get a waiver from the NCAA to qualify for a bowl game.
Their reward will be a trip to the Sun Bowl for the second straight season. They will face the USC Trojans and Lane Kiffin, who finished the season 7-5 and unranked after being preseason #1 in the AP Poll. It was a tough year for USC, and like most Lane Kiffin coached teams, you just don’t know how they’ll play on a week to week basis.
From a pure talent standpoint, the Trojans should win this game. However, USC has underachieved all year, and it’s tough to say whether their players will care very much about the Sun Bowl. If Georgia Tech plays like they did on Saturday night, they’ll have a chance to win.
The Wolfpack will head to Nashville for another ACC vs. SEC matchup. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible will serve as interim head coach for the month of December, following the firing of Tom O’Brien. This will be a tough matchup for NC State and Bible, for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, Vanderbilt is a good team. They are 8-4 overall, and they won the last six games of the regular season. They are on a roll, and they appear to be a well-coached team under James Franklin. Second, Vanderbilt is located in Nashville, so this will essentially be a home game for the Commodores.
I believe that both of those factors give Vanderbilt the advantage heading into this game.
Virginia Tech, after a disappointing 6-6 season, will head south to sunny Orlando. There the players will have an opportunity to go to Disney World, and also to face former Big East foe Rutgers. It’s not the bowl matchup that the Hokies expected when the season began, though it’s a good bowl for a 6-6 team.
Virginia Tech won the last 11 meetings with Rutgers, dating from 1993 through 2003. The teams haven’t faced each other since the Hokies departed the Big East for the ACC. These teams are very similar, with both featuring a offenses to go along with good defenses that have solid statistical rankings across the board.
Both teams probably feel pretty good about their chances in this game, as long as they can limit turnovers and not make mistakes on special teams. That has been easier said than done this year, for both teams.
Ignore the fact that Duke hasn’t won a football game since they upset North Carolina way back in October. The Blue Devils, at 6-6, are still going bowling for the first time since the 1994 season. Not only are they going bowling, but they are also playing in their own home state. There is no basketball game that day, so Duke should have a good crown in Charlotte for the game against the Bearcats.
Can Duke win the game? Well, their defense has shown its true colors since the win over UNC. The Blue Devils haven’t been able to stop anybody. Their offense is still solid, and they can keep the team in the game. Perhaps the emotions of playing in a bowl game for the first time in nearly two decades will help them overcome Cincinnati’s overall talent advantage.
Cincinnati is probably the better team, but don’t rule Duke out. There are bowl upsets each and every year, and this could potentially be one of them.