Getting 11 teams into the postseason is no small feat. I mean, it had never happened before until yesterday, when the ACC (of all conferences) pulled it off. Some of that is due to expansion, but 11 of 14 is a pretty nice percentage of teams. People will continually knock the quality of this conference (yes, probably even after Florida State wins the title this year), but you can see it's truly on the rise from the bottom up.
The point of this exercise is simple: Ranking all 11 ACC-related bowl games using a completely non-scientific and subjective system called "my opinion." Obviously for all of us, the Texas Bowl matchup between Syracuse and Minnesota is what matters most, but let's be real -- most fans don't feel this way. Keeping that in mind, your 11 ACC bowl games, ranked:
1. BCS National Championship Game, Pasadena, Calif. (January 6): #1 Florida State (13-0) vs. #2 Auburn (12-1)
You can't start anywhere but here. For the first time since 2000, the ACC places a team in the National Championship Game (also FSU back then) and it's a 'Noles team that has slaughtered opponents at a record pace. As Football Study Hall's Matt Hinton pointed out this morning, their average margin of victory of 42.3 points per game is a record in the BCS era -- one that was certainly aided by their 59-3 drubbing of Syracuse in November. Their opponent, Auburn, is no slouch either, though. After needing miracles to beat Georgia and Alabama late in the year, the Tigers completely bludgeoned Missouri in the SEC Championship Game this past Saturday. While FSU has a strong defensive front, they'll be tested while trying to stop a Gus Malzahn offense that scored 59 points and ran for 545 yards just a couple days ago. Not only is this the most important game of this college football season, but it could also end up being the most exciting (saying a lot, given the games we've been treated to this year).
2. Discover Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla. (January 3): #12 Clemson (10-2) vs. #7 Ohio State (12-1)
This could go one of two ways. Either the Buckeyes are completely dejected following their first loss since 2011, or they unleash hell on Dabo and the Tigers as payback for a missed National Championship opportunity. Tough to say which it will be yet, though this does present an intriguing matchup for both teams. How will the Clemson defense stand up to Ohio State's powerful rushing attack (4th in the country in yards per game)? And can they manage to move the ball against an aggressive defense like Ohio State's? In their two previous games against strong defensive fronts -- FSU, South Carolina -- Clemson was beaten soundly. Maybe they've learned something from those experiences.
3. Russel Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (December 28): Miami (9-3) vs. #18 Louisville (11-1)
This is an in-conference matchup next season, but for now, the two programs get one last crack at each other before playing under the same ACC banner. Louisville's got to be disappointed with how this year went -- basically boiled down to one poor quarter against UCF. Opposite them, Miami might have mixed emotions as well. This was supposed to be "their year" and instead, injuries derailed a Coastal Division title bid and handed it to Duke, of all teams. We'll see whether either team can get up for this one, though if they both play to their full abilities, it should be a close battle between two similar offenses (should be pass-heavy here) and defenses.
4. Chick-fil-a Bowl, Atlanta, Ga. (December 31): #24 Duke (10-3) vs. #21 Texas A&M (8-4)
It's a surprising meeting of two high-powered offensive attacks on New Year's Eve -- a fireworks show that may last up until the final minutes of the year 2013. Neither team plays much defense, so the big decider will just be which quarterback(s) can get the job done late. Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette have played reasonably well for the Blue Devils, but this is probably Johnny Manziel's last game for the Aggies. With all of that hype, and a star-studded after party assuredly awaiting him once this is over, Johnny Football might be tough to beat here.
5. Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Tex. (December 31): Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. #17 UCLA (9-3)
This could go terribly wrong for the Hokies, but hear me out. UCLA hasn't had the easiest time with strong defensive fronts (see: Stanford, sort-of Oregon), so Virginia Tech needs to apply a ton of pressure on QB Brett Hundley and try to force him into mistakes. There's of course the alternative outcome: they can't, he torches their secondary and linebacker-turned-running back Myles Jack does the rest for the Bruins. But I do think this "should" be a close game of two very different teams... so long as Tech can keep scoring at a minimum, that is.
6. AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Shreveport, La. (December 31): Boston College (7-5) vs. Arizona (7-5)
A whole lot of rushing yards in this one, and the game likely comes down to who can continue to play that game -- and/or who can stop the other team from doing so. Between the two of them, BC's Andre Williams and Arizona's Ka'deem Carey have over 3,800 yards rushing on the year, which is a stunning (and record-breaking for one bowl matchup) figure. Of the two backs, Williams certainly carried more of the load for his team and appeared a bit more gassed come the end of the year. But with a month off between games, anything ailing him in the Syracuse finale should be over and done with by the time this contest kicks off.
7. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, Tenn. (December 30): Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Ole Miss (7-5)
At one time, this was an SEC matchup, but then Georgia Tech up and left that league (and the Rebels) behind. Having not faced a triple-option offense recently, Ole Miss is sure to be tested by Tech's attack. Though with a month to prepare, they've at least got a bit of a leg up. A tip from SU: Don't change your fundamental defensive scheme the week of. It doesn't work. Despite a perceived lack of appeal to this game, it should be an odd mix of styles on both sides of the football, and that could possibly create some fun results.
8. Texas Bowl, Houston, Tex. (December 27): Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4)
Minnesota's bummed to be playing in this game once again, while Syracuse fans couldn't be more excited. Like the rest of you, I was terrified up until the announcement came on Sunday that the Orange were invited to ANY bowl game. But now that we're here, enough of the "just happy to be here" stuff. Syracuse will be the underdogs against Minnesota, and that's just fine. The Gophers are a similar team to us -- run the ball, win the game in the trenches -- so we have all the tools we need to beat them already (as do they for us). If the play-calling continues trending positively, this will be a closely contested one decided in the final minutes, much like our last two games were as well.
9. Belk Bowl, Charlotte, N.C. (December 28): North Carolina (6-6) vs. Cincinnati (9-3)
Which North Carolina team shows up here? The one that went 1-5 to start the year, or the one that went 5-1 to end it? Cincinnati has a solid run defense (though not really, given their opponents), but that actually plays right into UNC's attack. If forced to simply pass the ball, the Heels are happy to do so and should win plenty of mismatches between undersized corners and freak of nature TE Eric Ebron. While the record the same as it has for Cincinnati, this team just isn't built the same way -- especially on offense, where there appears to be a lack of true playmakers.
10. Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md. (December 27): Maryland (7-5) vs. Marshall (9-4)
Rather than going with Syracuse or BC, the Military Bowl went with the inferior Terrapins due to their proximity to Annapolis. That's fine. There's really no other way to get Maryland fans to games (and even when local, they rarely show up). This is not an ideal matchup for them, however, and that will be blatantly obviously from the opening whistle. Marshall's offense is one of the best in the country and will challenge Maryland to keep up for the full game. They've scored 45 or more points in six of their last seven -- something the Terps' offense simply won't be able to keep up with.
11. Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Detroit, Mich. (December 26): Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (10-3)
You saw what Bowling Green did to a quality Northern Illinois team in the MAC Championship Game, right? Okay, now extrapolate that out to a mediocre Pittsburgh team. Of course, NIU didn't have a monster like Aaron Donald on their D-line and Pitt won't let Falcons' QB Matt Johnson complete as many wide-open passes either. But this Bowling Green team might have too much firepower for the Panthers to really compete with offensively. Pitt has plenty of time to prepare, and maybe Tom Savage can re-harness some of the magic from that September 58-55 win over Duke. I just wouldn't bet on it.
Completely wrong? How would you rank them? Comment away.