We’ll be previewing each ACC bowl matchup individually as the games get closer, but for now, it’s worth at least taking a top-level look. Once again, the ACC’s up against a pretty formidable group of opponents, but all isn’t lost just yet.
Below, you’ll find the keys to each game laid out, along with the easiest path for the respective ACC teams to find success. Obviously, none of these are guaranteed results, and there’s still plenty more left to discuss (and we will as December wears on).
Keys to Success
Belk Bowl (Duke vs. Cincinnati): For Duke, it’s all about executing their passing game against a Cincinnati defense that will be reeling without head coach Butch Jones in the picture. The Bearcats, while very formidable on defense overall, ranked just 73rd in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game (243.5). They got by, however, forcing turnovers in the passing game, and buckling down in the red zone. Cincinnati’s defense allowed just 11 passing scores, compared to 14 picks. If Duke can avoid errors while throwing the football, and live up to their 32nd overall ranking in that department, they can find a clear path to victory.
Russell Athletic Bowl (Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers): The best way to beat Rutgers is by controlling the pace of the game; something Tech has struggled with significantly this entire season. For as well as that defense has played this year, the offense has been another story. Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas will be relied upon to lead a brisk attack and make the Scarlet Knights play from behind. Virginia Tech was also 4-1 when scoring 30 or more points this year, while Rutgers was 0-1 in the only contest where their opponents reached that mark.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Syracuse vs. West Virginia): While Syracuse has benefited from a torrid pace in many of their wins this year, the key this time around will be generating a significant pass rush to pressure WVU quarterback Geno Smith. As the second half of the Mountaineers season and last year’s SU/WVU game proved, Smith still struggles when forced to deliver a quick ball under duress. If Syracuse allows him to stand and deliver to Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin all game, the Orange are certain to lose. But if SU’s Brandon Sharpe and Jay Bromley can put heat on Smith, that’s when the mistakes begin.
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Georgia Tech vs. USC): As I usually emphasize when discussing Tech’s triple-option attack, the key is to throw the ball effectively. USC has yet to see a triple-option, but will sniff it out quickly if it becomes predictable, especially with the speed they exhibit at the starting positions. The Trojans pass defense, however, is a middle-of-the-road group that’s found itself depleted by injuries and burnt out from a lack of depth. Three of their last five opponents have put up 38 points or more, mostly due to zero pass-rush and continuous blown coverage in the secondary. I’m unsure either of Georgia Tech’s primary passers can take full advantage, but they’ll need to if they hope to win here.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (NC State vs. Vanderbilt): Despite a “down year” in terms of forced turnovers on defense, State still managed 16 interceptions — a strength they’ll have to harness against Vandy. For a team that normally wins with a high-powered passing game, the Pack may find that aspect of their repertoire virtually out of commission against the Commodores’ top-10 passing D, so obviously they’ll be turning to other methods. In this case, taking some risks to force turnovers is their best bet against an offense that fails to produce consistency with the pass, and has a -5 turnover margin coming into the game.
Chick-fil-a Bowl (Clemson vs. LSU): The key for Clemson, as it’s been all season, will be an effective run-game behind lead back Andre Ellington, as well as QB Tajh Boyd. LSU’s front seven has been terrifying against the run all year, allowing just 3.13 yards per rush against FBS opponents. And with the blitzes they can employ, if you allow them to rush four and five guys at Boyd, there’s a high likelihood the junior passer will be ending his day early. While no one wants to look back at the South Carolina game, it will give plenty of notes on how to combat this LSU squad, and prevent Clemson from repeating the 59-play disaster from a few weeks back.
Discover Orange Bowl (Florida State vs. Northern Illinois): Eliminating overly-conservative, ineffective play-calling is the only thing stopping Florida State from playing for a national championship right now, so let’s not forget that. If you reference Every Day Should Be Saturday‘s Spike Factor ratings (measuring what percentage of plays are run for either zero or negative yardage), we find a Seminoles team in disarray. Three times they found themselves with ratings of 40-percent or more. Against some lesser opponents, they still challenged 30-percent. With all the weapons they have, it’s completely unacceptable. The ‘Noles will win simply by opening up the playbook.
Allstate Sugar Bowl (Louisville vs. Florida): The Gators are a top-five defense that can get after the quarterback at-will, and force turnovers on special teams. For Louisville to pull out a victory, their first priority should simply be to keep quarterback Teddy Bridgewater upright, then encourage him to engineer a quick pace on offense. Florida’s defense can stop speed, yes, but their offense can’t compete with it. If Louisville can turn this into a shootout — far from a guarantee — there’s a much higher chance UF’s offensive inefficiencies get the better of them, superior defense be damned.
BBVA Compass Bowl (Pittsburgh vs. Mississippi): We’ll lean on the same old tropes for Pitt’s success once again — just run the football well, and don’t force quarterback Tino Sunseri to do too much. If they can win the matchup with Ole Miss at the line of scrimmage, it’s a solid sign. But keep in mind the Rebels’ bring a formidable run defense with them (allow just 133.33 yards per game), and what should be a sizable home-crowd advantage as well. The Panthers did, however, just rack up 138 yards on the ground against Rutgers — the 11th-ranked rush defense in the country — just a few weeks back. So take that for what it’s worth.