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Ranking the ACC's bowl games on watchability

December 05,2017 22:19

The Badgers are about as vanilla as they come, but it's an effective vanilla based on a stout defense and a power running game that's a throwback. The 'Canes are one of the flashiest teams in the country, with their Turnover Chain, trash-talking ...and more »


Now that the ACC's bowl lineup is set, there's nothing like a good ol' ranking of the games in terms of watchability to get you through the week.
These are just my personal opinions. They just so happen to also be correct.
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1. Sugar: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Alabama
Info: Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m., ESPN, in New Orleans
Line: Alabama by 1.5
Why you'll watch: I mean, c'mon. It's Clemson-Alabama III. The Tide got the best of the Tigers two years ago. Clemson returned the favor in last year's title game. It's somewhat refreshing to see that they'll be playing in the semifinals this year just to switch things up in the championship. But these have clearly been the best two programs in the country the last three years. Seeing them duke it out on the field once more is a whole lot more enticing than, say, if Ohio State had gotten into that No. 4 playoff spot, considering the Tigers wiped the floor with the Buckeyes 31-0 in last year's national semifinal.
Why it might not live up to expectations: Even though it's favored -- the public always loves Bama -- this isn't quite a vintage Alabama team. Injuries have taken their toll, and the Tide don't have a long list of great wins to support its case this year, being very fortunate to get a playoff bid to begin with. That said, nobody will feel too bad if Alabama loses.
2. Orange: No. 10 Miami vs. No. 6 Wisconsin
Info: Dec. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Line: Wisconsin by 6
Why you'll watch: It's style vs. substance to the Nth degree. The Badgers are about as vanilla as they come, but it's an effective vanilla based on a stout defense and a power running game that's a throwback. The 'Canes are one of the flashiest teams in the country, with their Turnover Chain, trash-talking defense and big-play potential on offense. This game is a good test to figure out what end of the college football fan spectrum you belong on. Both teams are looking for a little legitimacy after having their unbeaten runs earlier this year called into question with late-season losses. The winner should command some national respect. Bonus points for the high probability that a Wisconsin fan invents a Turnover Cheese Chain to wear at the game.
Why it might not live up to expectations: Miami's been hit hard with season-ending injuries lately, most recently to tight end Christopher Herndon and receiver Ahmmon Richards. That certainly took its toll in the ACC title game, though even that wasn't going to make a difference in a 38-3 beatdown by Clemson. At the very least, the homefield advantage here should give the 'Canes a boost.
3. Camping World: No. 22 Virginia Tech vs. No. 19 Oklahoma State
When: Dec. 28, 5:15 p.m., ESPN, in Orlando, Fla.
Line: Oklahoma State by 6.5
Why you'll watch: This is a Virginia Tech-heavy blog, so obviously I'll give a nod to the Hokies in terms of fan interest in this exercise. But this is legitimately a very intriguing matchup too, a contrast of styles that should be fascinating. Oklahoma State, with quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington, have the nation's No. 1 passing offense at 392.3 yards per game. The Hokies are one of the best passing defenses in the country, allowing opponents to complete only 46.9 percent of their passes this year, tops in the country. For a non-New Year's Six matchup, this is a pretty good pairing, one that hasn't taken place since 1972. This is just what you want in a bowl game that's not quite in that first tier of games.
Why it might not live up to expectations: The Hokies are good at pass defense, but they are prone to giving up big plays, and they've been banged up in the secondary. Given how the offense sputtered down the stretch, you wonder if Tech has enough firepower to keep up with the Pokes.
4. Citrus: No. 14 Notre Dame vs. No. 17 LSU
Info: Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC, in Orlando, Fla.
Line: LSU by 1
Why you'll watch: Admit it, you're always going to watch when Notre Dame plays. Especially since there's such a great level of schadenfreude when the Irish lose, particularly if that's the case in a game like this, which became part of the ACC's bowl lineup but got snatched up by the school that isn't technically part of the league football-wise. These are two high-profile programs, with major personalities on the sidelines in Brian Kelly and Ed Orgeron, either one of whom could do something crazy on the sideline.
Why it might not live up to expectations: Neither of these teams pass the ball very well (both rank 85th or lower nationally in passing offense), so it could turn into both teams trying to simply impose their will in the ground game. I hear some of you saying, "But that's real fuhbaw!" Perhaps, but I like a little passing sprinkled in every now and then.
5. TaxSlayer: Louisville vs. No. 23 Mississippi State
Info: Dec. 30, noon, ESPN, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Line: Louisville by 5
Why you'll watch: Lamar Jackson might be playing his final college game. That's all the reason to tune in right there. This is someone who won last year's Heisman Trophy, is one of three finalists this year and has accounted for 10,046 yards and 93 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Those are video game numbers, and you don't want to miss out in case he does something very Lamar Jackson-like, such as jumping over a defender. Make sure to catch his last bit of college action before the unimaginative NFL turns him into a receiver or something.
Why it might not live up to expectations: Is Mississippi State really that good right now? The Bulldogs lost their head coach Dan Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to Florida (the Grantham storyline, as a former Louisville DC, would have been a good one). And they lost their quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to a gruesome ankle injury in the regular season finale, which MSU ended up losing to a pretty mediocre Ole Miss. Early-season Mississippi State? Sure. Late-season MSU? It might be a struggle.
6. Belk: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M
Info: Dec. 29, 1 p.m., ESPN, in Charlotte
Line: Wake Forest by 3
Why you'll watch: This is an under-the-radar decent matchup. Wake's much better than anyone would have imagined this year on offense, with an explosive group led by quarterback John Wolford, who accounted for 3,407 yards and 35 touchdowns this year. Who knows what you're going to get from Texas A&M, which fired Kevin Sumlin, overpaid to bring in Jimbo Fisher and will have some shell of a coaching staff for the bowl game. The Aggies still have some pretty good talent, though, including receiver Christian Kirk. This has the possibility of being an entertaining game, even if the teams are unranked.
Why it might not live up to expectations: I'd expect Wake to be motivated, especially its fan base being so close to Charlotte. But A&M? I can't imagine a big contingent will be traveling for that. And if some of these coaches aren't going to be retained by Fisher, how checked out are they going to be?
7. Sun: No. 24 N.C. State vs. Arizona State
Info: Dec. 29, 3 p.m, CBS, in El Paso, Texas
Line: N.C. State by 7
Why you'll watch: Just for the sheer possibility that CBS will do some kind of an interview with incoming Arizona State coach Herm Edwards, who seems unaware that the team he'll be coaching is, in fact, nicknamed the Sun Devils. N.C. State is a pretty good team that just came up short in a couple of its big games, not unlike the Hokies. This is a pretty good defense that'll be headlined by ACC Defensive Player of the Year Bradley Chubb, who'll be using this as an NFL audition. And, there'll be a curiosity to see ousted ASU coach Todd Graham be on the sidelines coaching this the Sun Devils one more time. 
Why it might not live up to expectations: How invested are ASU's players going to be in sending Graham out right? It really could go either way: a win-one-for-coach type scenario or one where everyone's just ready to move on. Edwards, who ASU plans to use in an NFL general manager-like capacity -- an experiment that'll either be wildly successful or an incredible bust -- is keeping the coordinators on staff, so perhaps that lessens the chance of the latter here, but it's still possible. Also, Edwards might not be in attendance. That'd remove any interview opportunity.
8. Pinstripe: Boston College vs. Iowa
Info: Dec. 27, 5:15 p.m., ESPN, in New York
Line: Iowa by 3
Why you'll watch: If you haven't seen Boston College running back AJ Dillon lately, you should probably check in. The ACC's Rookie of the Year ran for 1,432 yards and 13 touchdowns, tops among the league's running backs. He topped 149 yards in five of the Eagles' last six games, probably saving coach Steve Addazio's job by doing so. Iowa has a decent rushing defense and, while its offense might not be great, it sure did put on a show against Ohio State that one night, effectively keeping the Buckeyes out of the playoff.
Why it might not live up to expectations: Iowa's lost five straight bowl games, four of them by double digits. The Hawkeyes last won one in 2010. When things go wrong for them in the postseason, they really go wrong, even though BC's hardly the type of team to completely blow somebody out (unless it's FSU).
9. Military: Navy vs. Virginia
Info: Dec. 28, 1:30 p.m., ESPN, in Annapolis, Md.
Line: Nothing reliable, since Navy plays Army this weekend
Why you'll watch: Hokies fans will surely tune in to see how the Cavaliers do in their first bowl appearance since 2011, even if their sole purpose is to root against their state rivals. Anytime a team has to go up against Navy's option offense, it's fascinating, though. Bronco Mendenhall's group already beat one triple-option opponent when it topped Georgia Tech 40-36 last month. The Cavaliers gave up 220 rushing yards and 4.2 yards per rush in that game, however. This Navy team isn't as explosive offensively as it has been in the past, but the option makes sure the Midshipmen are always a potential problem.
Why it might not live up to expectations: Outside of that Georgia Tech win, the Cavaliers weren't great down the stretch, losing five of their last six, all by double digits. This might just be more of the same.
10. Quick Lane: Duke vs. Northern Illinois
Info: Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m., ESPN, in Detroit
Line: Duke by 3
Why you'll watch: I mean, what are you going to do, not watch football? Duke at least came on strong late in the year, beating Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to snap a six-game losing streak and get to a bowl.
Why it might not live up to expectations: Are there really high expectations for this game? Detroit rarely serves up a good bowl game to watch. It'd be tough to imagine a big Duke contingent heading there for the game, unless Mike Krzyzewski's crew happens to be playing at Michigan State anytime around Christmas. This one just doesn't seem to have much juice.
11. Independence: Florida State vs. Southern Miss
Info: Dec. 27, 1:30 p.m., ESPN, in Shreveport, La.
Line: Florida State by 15
Why you'll watch: Morbid curiosity, more than anything. This was the No. 3 team in the country coming into the year that fell flat on its face. It had to reschedule a game against Louisiana-Monroe during championship week just to get bowl eligible, and it did so during a tumultuous week in which its head coach bolted for the greener (browner?) cow pastures of Texas A&M. If nothing else, Tech fans will get a small sneak preview of some of the players FSU will have for next year's season opener in Tallahassee on Labor Day night, even though I expect next year's Seminoles squad to be a vast improvement over this year's.
Why it might not live up to expectations: The only bowl game with a bigger line than this one is Florida Atlantic by 17 over Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl. Oh, if only there could have been some horse-trading to get these 'Noles to play against a Lane Kiffin-coached team. In fact, is it too late? Can anyone make this happen?

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