Friday, December 20, 2013

Your Handy-Dandy ACC Bowl Season Preview

Look, bowl season won-loss records absolutely don't matter. For all that they're supposed to be all star-caliber showdowns on the order of Hulk taking on Thor or suchlike, all too often they're played under circumstances that prevent them from being good football games. Coaches get fired or moved on, meaning that teams have to get used to new coaching staffs in time for one game. Players misbehave and get suspended, or get injured and sit out. Unglamorous match ups lead to uninspired performances, especially from teams that viewed the trip to Shreveport or Memphis or whatever as the real reward, or from ones who couldn't care less that they were playing the second place team in the Sun Belt conference. The teams that take the field for the bowl game rarely are the same, in composition or in attitude, as the ones that played the regular season, and that, my ducklings, is why the Big East consistently had a winning bowl record year after year.

Which brings us to the current bowl season, and the ACC's participation in it. On paper, this was a great year for the conference - three teams bouncing around the top 10 for much of the season, a team in the national championship game, and Duke finally picked itself off the mat. As a result, ACC teams are playing in a ridiculous 11 bowls, roughly 1/3 of the ones that are out there (at the moment).

And yet. It only takes 6-6 to get to a bowl, with no more than 1 win coming over an FCS team. An awful lot of the conference's bowl reps are sitting at or just above that magical 6-6 mark, meaning they just squeaked in, and if their opponents show up, it could be a long bowl season indeed. 

Here, then, is a quick and uninformed look at the ACC's bowl lineup. Quick, because there are people whose entire career revolves around writing up detailed predictions of the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl and we're not going to try to compete with that. Uninformed because if you actually spend the time to do in-depth research on the subtle nuances of the AdvoCare  V100 Bowl matchup, you clearly have too much time on your hands.

So without further ado:

Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl (Dec. 26) - Bowling Green vs. Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh has been thoroughly mediocre all season. They rank middle of the pack or below on scoring offense, scoring defense, rushing, passing - you name it. They have one elite defensive player in Aaron Donald, but BGSU has an elite defense that shut down Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch. Bowling Green is, in every sense, a superior team, except for one thing: the coaching staff just packed up and left for Wake Forest. Clearly this is part of a cross-ACC conspiracy to assist conference teams in bowl games, as BGSU won't get its optimum preparation in. 
Pick: BGSU

Military Bowl, Presented By Northrop-Grumman (Dec. 27) - Maryland vs. Marshall
Played in Annapolis, this is basically a home game for an uninspiring Maryland team on its way into The Big Bunch Of Schools Ohio State Generally Wins. Based on the numbers, Marshall's the better team, but Maryland has a way of occasionally waking up for big games, particularly ones that could get coach Randy Edsall noticed by the search committees of larger schools.
Pick: Don't actually care, and neither does anyone else in the ACC

Texas Bowl (Dec. 27) - Minnesota vs. Syracuse
Minnesota spent the whole season with one eye on the sideline to check on the health of coach Jerry Kill, and still managed to carve out a respectable season. Its 3 losses came to ranked teams and an 8-win Iowa outfit; Syracuse clinched its bowl eligibility at 6-6 with time running out in the last game of the season, against a Boston College team missing its best player. Syracuse also had 4 games in which it gave up 48 or more points, which is probably some kind of record. Minnesota's not the sort of team to score 48+, but they'll have a decent shot at it.
Pick: Syracuse 

The Belk Bowl (Dec. 28) - UNC vs. Cincinnati
This one isn't quite a home game for UNC, as the vast majority of Triangle residents are never thrilled about the two and a half hour drive west to Charlotte. That being said, Cincinnati fans are unlikely to turn out in droves, either, for their second consecutive appearance in the Queen City. Cincy is probably viewing this as a late audition for eventual pickup by the ACC, which would probably work a lot better if they just stood outside the stadium holding boom boxes and blasting Peter Gabriel. As a team, they've been erratic - the way they got sandpapered by a dreadful Illinois team can probably be attributed to the fact that Cincy QB Munchie Legaux got pureed mid-game, but the USF loss is the sort of thing that generally gets blamed on aliens. UNC, on the other hand, has been on a roll since swapping quarterbacks mid-season. Plus, their offensive line now is in a position where everyone finally knows everyone else's name, which helps. 
Pick: UNC

Russell Athletic Bowl (Dec. 28) - Louisville vs. Miami
It's a battle of a team the ACC grabbed to try to boost its football standing and a team the ACC is about to grab to try to boost its football standing. Miami's high-wire act got exposed brutally by Florida State, meaning their best win is either Georgia Tech or Pitt. Neither inspires much confidence, and the early-season upset of a discombobulated Florida team that lent them most of their creed now doesn't seem so impressive. Louisville, on the other hand, was supposed to be a national championship contender. It's probably best that they did drop a squeaker to an 11-1 UCF team, because if they were in the championship game over Auburn right now, the entire southeast US would be on fire.  Louisville, to be charitable, didn't really have a lot of muscle on the schedule this year - their best out of conference wins were Ohio and Kentucky - so what they've got in the tank is anyone's guess. The main difference between the two teams is Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater, who's playing for draft status, and that should be enough.
Pick: Louisville

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Dec. 30) - Old Miss vs. Georgia Tech
Because nothing says football like a mortgage company with a lengthy list of complaints over at In SEC-ACC match ups where SEC !=Kentucky, the smart money says "take the SEC". The caveat here is that Georgia Tech's triple option, like Temple's old matchup zone in basketball, is thoroughly weird and hard to prepare for unless you see it on a regular basis. If Ole Miss cared, they'd probably win. They're probably more interested in the additional practice time, and they're not going to waste it prepping for an offense they're hopefully never going to see again.
Pick: Georgia Tech

AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec 31.) - Boston College vs. Arizona
First of all, what is an AdvoCare V100? Is it like the T-800? If so, that would make for an interesting football game, though one suspects that the same talking heads who objected to Condi Rice being part of the Bowl Playoff Committee would object to liquid metal that looked like Kristanna Loken taking the field. (AdvoCare, for its part, makes nutritional supplements for athletes, and was sued by at least one Olympic athlete over allegations that their products made her test positive. They're also apparently built on a MLM model, better known as a Ponzi scheme, which makes them absolutely perfect to sponsor a college football game because, you know, amateurism.) As for the game, both teams are going to try to run the ball. Both teams are going to attempt to stop the other team running the ball, and will fail. Boston College has a better running back; Arizona played slightly stiffer competition.
Pick: Arizona, but only because they didn't lose to Syracuse

Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31) - Virginia Tech vs. UCLA
Virginia Tech has an outstanding defense. They have also seen absolutely nothing like UCLA, a team whose lowest point total was 24. Tech doesn't win when its offense turns the ball over, and Tech doesn't win when they have to try to play catchup. Both of those scenarios are likely.
Pick: UCLA

Chik-fil-A Bowl (Dec. 31) - Duke vs. Texas A&M
In what will almost certainly be Johnny Football's last hurrah as a college player, he gets a surprising Duke team that got run off the field in the ACC Championship by a clearly bored Florida State outfit. Look, Duke has had an astonishing season. They have exceeded all expectations and have played exciting football all year long. But stack them up against a team that went toe to toe with Alabama, and...and....I think I need a drink.
Pick: Texas A&M. And it's ugly.

Discover Orange Bowl (Jan. 3) - Clemson vs. Ohio State
I don't know about you guys, but I discovered orange when I was about 2 and my parents left me unattended with a crayon box. Clemson is clearly the second best team in the ACC this year; OSU still thinks it should have been playing for the national championship. Under normal circumstances, this would mean that OSU would barely show up and, disinterested, get blown off the field, but in light of the relentless criticism they took for being a Big 10 team, odds are they still feel like they have something to prove. Clemson's folded pretty consistently when faced with superior talent. The question is, are the Buckeyes superior talent, or just a bunch of guys who regularly squeaked out wins against slow-footed Big 10 opposition?
Pick: Ohio State

VIZZIO BCS Championship Game (Jan. 6) - Florida State vs. Auburn
Hey, remember when all the bowl games were done on January 1? Wasn't that awesome? You don't remember? Well, it used to be that way, and it was awesome. Incidentally, what's up with the Arkansas State logo? I mean, I know the team name is the "Red Wolves", but that doesn't explain why the logo looks like a werewolf who just got through watching "Brian's Song". Okay, okay, I admit it - I'm trying to avoid talking about this game? Why? Because this is a root-for-the-meteor-to-hit-the-stadium situation. On one side, Florida State,  coached by a man with one foot out the door to Texas, led by a QB whom circumstantial evidence suggests did something deeply repugnant, and supported by a fan base that appears to be more interested in won-loss records than in justice. On the other side, the SEC, and the last thing college football needs is for an SEC team to win the national championship, AGAIN. I don't want to see either of those fan bases celebrate.
(I for one would favor playing the national championship game at Lambeau one of these years, just to see how a speed-based warm-weather SEC team performed in suboptimal conditions. Alas, it'll never happen.)
Pick: Meteor. 

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