Well, ladies and gentlemen, Christmas Day is approaching, and you know what that means!
…well, okay, you know what else that means! Bowl season is upon us, friends! I’m not a game predictor like some people, for a couple of reasons. First, I’m an esteemed journalist.
Okay, now that you’ve recovered from your assured laughter, the second reason is that I’m just not that good at picking games. Sure, I’ve won my share of Bowl Pick ‘Em contests, but it’s much easier for me — and more fun for you, I hope — to talk about the storylines and leave the WAGs (you figure out the acronym, and it’s not Wives and Girlfriends) to the pros.
The ACC will send eleven teams bowl-ward this postseason, and the possibility of a repeat national champion coming from the Atlantic Coast still exists. We’ll break down the first group of games involving ACC teams in this space. For the uninitiated — which should hopefully not be too many of you, any games where the ACC faces the SEC and the SEC is listed as the home team will be featured in the SEC version of Clear Your Schedule. On to such exciting destinations as Michigan (!), Florida, Maryland, Texas and New York…right after our trivia question!
ACC Trivia, Bowl Games, Part 1 (answer at the end of the column): How many names has the game now known as the Russell Athletic Bowl had in its history?
Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)
Quick Lane Bowl
North Carolina (6-6, 4-4 ACC) vs. Rutgers (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten)
4:30pm Friday, 12/26 | Ford Field, Detroit | ESPN
- You know I love you, 99: Priority one for Rutgers’ defense is going to be locking down star North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams. Williams ranked behind only Jameis Winston in total offense among ACC quarterbacks this season, averaging nearly 301 yards per game. Rutgers ranks 99th among FBS defenses, surrendering 439-and-a-half yards per contest. Except for Washington State (whose pass-first offense rushed for just six yards) and Penn State (64), every team Rutgers faced rushed for 152 yards or greater against the Scarlet Knights.
- 120 years ago…: Rutgers and North Carolina will meet for the seventh time in the schools’ history. The first meeting came on November 1, 1894. Rutgers defeated UNC 5-0 in that meeting.
- Continuing success: Both schools have a great amount of recent bowl history. North Carolina will be going to their fifth bowl in six years, missing only the 2012 season, in which they were ineligible. Rutgers will play in their ninth bowl in the last 10 years, after having made just one bowl appearance in school history before the current streak began.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Carolina has a high-octane offense (425.4 yards per game), and can score at will. The question is whether they can stop Rutgers.
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl
NC State (7-5, 3-5 ACC) vs. Central Florida (9-3, 7-1 AAC)
8:00pm Friday, 12/26 | Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL | ESPN
- Bowl-bound sans Blake: UCF may be missing Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, but George O’Leary still has quite the successful club on his hands. UCF’s sports information department points out that the Knights have won 31 games in the last three seasons, which can only be bettered by six FBS programs. The Knights were 9-1 over their final ten games this season, losing only to UConn in a 37-29 decision on November 1st.
- Tremendous turnaround: After the Wolfpack failed to win an ACC game in Dave Doeren’s 3-9 maiden voyage in Raleigh, the rising young coach returned to the postseason with the 2014 edition. Only TCU (4-8 in 2013, 11-1 this season) had a better turnaround from last season.
- It pays to play “D”: The biggest challenge NC State will face is piercing UCF’s loaded defense. The Knights are a top-eleven unit in every major defensive measure, ranking third-best in the nation in total defense (282.3 yards per game), ninth in points allowed (17.9) and fifth in rushing defense (97.4 yards). UCF held five teams to fewer than 100 rushing yards this season, including an almost-unbelievable five yards by South Florida in a 16-0 blanking on November 28th.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Despite Jacoby Brissett’s leadership and the resurgent ‘Pack, UCF’s defense has been nearly impenetrable at times. Tough matchup.
Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman
Virginia Tech (6-6, 3-5 ACC) vs. Cincinnati (9-3, 7-1 AAC)
1:00pm Saturday, 12/27 | Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, MD | ESPN
- Logan’s Run: While former Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas languishes on the bench in Arizona, his Hokies have been stuck in neutral on offense for much of the year. Tech ranks 69th in passing offense (225.2 yards per game), and they are positioned either 93rd or 95th in every other major statistical category.
- Beamer Bowl: Only fellow ACC member Florida State has a longer active bowl appearance streak than do Frank Beamer’s Hokies. The Seminoles have appeared in 33 consecutive postseason games, with Virginia Tech’s streak now at 22 after beating rival Virginia over Thanksgiving weekend. Beamer is the active leader in coaching victories (272), and has the sixth-highest total among all FBS coaches.
- Rarefied air: Cincinnati has won nine or more games for four consecutive years. Only six other schools can make that claim, with three of them being in this year’s College Football Playoff (Alabama, Florida State and Oregon). UC last lost this season on October 11th, falling 55-34 at Miami (FL).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: UC has battled injuries and early inconsistency to become quite the solid club. Virginia Tech needs to score early and often to take this one.
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Duke (9-3, 5-3 ACC) vs. #15 Arizona State (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
2:00pm Saturday, 12/27 | Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, TX | CBS
- Speaking of the Devils: Duke and Arizona State have never played each other in football. In fact, it’s been 11 years since the Sun Devils have played an ACC team. Duke has only played Pac-12 opponents 13 times, winning just three of those contests.
- Over five decades: Duke is trying to win a bowl game, which it has not done since January 2, 1961. The Blue Devils beat Arkansas 7-6 on that day 53-plus years ago. Arizona State, on the other hand, defeated Navy 62-28 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl just two years ago.
- Bailin’ Jaelen: This game will be the final college outing for star Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong. The junior wideout has 75 catches for 1062 yards and 10 scores. Strong recently announced that he will be turning pro after the season.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Offensive talents (Strong, Anthony Boone, Jamison Crowder, D.J. Foster, etc.) will be on display. This may come down to a late stop.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Boston College (7-5, 4-4 ACC) vs. Penn State (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten)
4:30pm Saturday, 12/27 | Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, NY | ESPN
- An unfavorable matchup: Penn State appears to be in trouble on offense. The Nittany Lions rank 112th or worse in every major offensive category except for passing offense (72nd). James Franklin mentioned in the season-ending presser that his team was down to 41 scholarship players for the final game. Boston College, on the other hand, ranks 18th or better in every major defensive category, except for passing defense (48th). Ouch.
- Keeping contain: Tyler Murphy is the most prolific rushing quarterback the Nittany Lions have faced this season. Murphy ranks third among quarterbacks in rushing yards (1074 yards, 10 TD) behind only Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Georgia Southern’s Kevin Ellison. The highest-ranked rushing quarterback Penn State faced this year was Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (938 yards, 11 TD). Barrett carried for 75 yards and two scores against Franklin’s club.
- Snapping the skid: For two programs with great histories, they have experienced their share of struggles of late in bowl games. Boston College has lost four consecutive postseason appearances after winning eight in a row from 2001-2008. Penn State, on the other hand, has lost their last two and three of their last four.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: This matchup couldn’t be worse for Penn State on paper. BC will look to run the ball down the Lions’ throat and try to hold off PSU.
Russell Athletic Bowl
#18 Clemson (9-3, 6-2 ACC) vs. Oklahoma (8-4, 5-4 Big 12)
5:30pm Monday, 12/29 | Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium | ESPN
- Top of the pops: Clemson features a defense that ranks in the top seven in every major category. The Tigers currently take up residence atop the FBS standings in yards per game, allowing just 259.6 yards per game. Oklahoma boasts a top-twenty offense in every major category, except for passing. The Sooners rank 80th among FBS teams in throwing the football.
- On a run: Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine has been gashing opposing defenses of late. Perine has posted four 100-yard rushing outings in his last five games, with a 21-yard, five-carry effort against Baylor being the lone exception. Perine smashed a single-game record with 427 yards on 34 carries against Kansas in November, finding the end zone five of his 21 times on the season in that game.
- Cole-d as ice: Clemson senior Cole Stoudt will take the snaps in this contest, with Deshaun Watson having had surgery to clear up an ACL issue. Stoudt has completed 165-of-266 passes this season for 1573 yards, but has found the end zone just six time against 10 picks. The Tigers have won every game in which Stoudt has attempted 29 or greater passes except the lid-lifter against Georgia, in which he went 16-for-29 for 144 yards and a rip. Stoudt’s other loss was a disastrous relief effort against Georgia Tech, which saw him go 3-for-11 for 19 yards and three picks.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Even without Chad Morris, Clemson can win by slowing Perine and limiting Stoudt’s mistakes. Two very tall orders.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: How many names has the game now known as the Russell Athletic Bowl had in its history?
Six. The game has previously been known as the Blockbuster Bowl, CarQuest Bowl, MicronPC Bowl, Tangerine Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl before receiving its current name.
From me and mine to you and yours, please accept my wishes for a warm Christmas/Hanukkah/whatever else you celebrate season, filled with peace and joy. I so greatly appreciate your visiting these pieces on a weekly basis, and you help make us great. All my best.
Questions? Comments? Leftover holiday cookies? Follow Brian on Twitter @sportsmatters!