With eight conference teams headed to bowl games, including two in BCS bowls for the first time ever, it appeared the ACC had a chance to enhance its national perception on the gridiron. That chance has now come and gone, as the conference finished bowl season with a 2-6 record. The final results were disappointing in that the teams did not win more games, and as far as the BCS bowl results go, may have pushed national impression of the conference further into irrelevancy.
Start with the Sugar Bowl-Virginia Tech was derided by many for being chosen to even play in the game, and given it’s 1-4 record in BCS bowl games, perhaps rightfully so. While the Hokies kept it close against the Michigan Wolverines, the end result was like so many of the others-a loss. The 23-20 overtime defeat sunk the team and coach Frank Beamer to 1-5 in BCS bowls, and the reputation of Virginia Tech took yet another hit in the national press. For all the success the school has had in the ACC, it hasn’t made it over the hump in the big games. This was just the latest loss of note.
As for the Orange Bowl-given how bad the Hokies reputation appears to be, Clemson’s may be even worse after the 70-33 beatdown the Tigers suffered at the hands of the West Virginia Mountaineers. For this, it is hard to put into words how shocking this result was. The conference champion, the best team the conference had to offer, was beat down by a team from a football conference with an even worse reputation than the ACC. If nothing else, games like this and the Sugar Bowl give more ammunition for removing the automatic bids for the Big Six conferences-I’m sure that Boise State and Arkansas would agree with that. For the Tigers, it had to be the most disastrous result imaginable-a loss would have been reasonable, even if it meant the conference and the school were perceived to be not ready for prime time-but a 37-point annihilation? These two losses now drop the ACC record in BCS bowls to an uninspiring 2-13. Say what you want, but it will take a lot of winning to reverse those numbers, and create a positive perception going forward about ACC football.
Other bowl games offered up more of the same. North Carolina was first up in the Independence Bowl, and the Tar Heels were promptly run over and through by the Missouri Tigers by a 41-24 score. The ACC’s third-ranked rushing defense was gouged to the tune of 337 rushing yards by the Tigers. Wake Forest suffered the conference’s second bowl loss in the Music City Bowl, as the Demon Deacons fell to Mississippi State 23-17. Wake Forest finished the season losing five of its last six games, so they were not exactly trending upward going into this battle down in Nashville. The first overtime loss for the ACC happened at the Sun Bowl, when Georgia Tech fell to Utah 30-27. The Yellow Jackets caused some problems with their top-ranked rushing attack, but in the end couldn’t get the job done when it mattered most, giving up the tying points late in the fourth quarter, and surrendering the winning touchdown in overtime. Finally, Virginia’s Cavaliers-the surprise of the ACC season-fell hard to Auburn 43-24 in the Peach Bowl. Auburn scored its highest point total of the year against the Cavaliers, who played even for about a quarter and a half, then succumbed to the Tigers’ running game and better athletes.
The two successes of bowl season go to North Carolina State and Florida State. The Wolfpack got a victory in the Belk Bowl, defeating the Louisville Cardinals 31-24. Mike Glennon, the guy tasked with following Russell Wilson at quarterback had a fine game, throwing for three touchdowns. The Seminoles outlasted Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl 18-14, matching two teams that had far higher expectations than playing in a bowl game well before New Years Day. The ACC’s top ranked defense did enough to keep the Seminoles in the game, while the offense woke up in the second half to rally from a 14 point deficit.
They say that ACC Football is just something to pass the time until basketball season starts. This season, perhaps more than ever, has proven that to be true. Stay tuned next fall when the ACC will once again attempt to improve its national perception in the NCAA’s biggest sport.