Justin Cates, Mike McDaniel, and Jeff Greenberg gather around (via email) to discuss the ACC bowl season. We cover the top players to watch, games you shouldn’t skip, and which programs are set up for a big 2017 with a win.
1) Which ACC representative surprised you the most by making a bowl game this season?
For me, it has to be Boston College. This is one of the worst offenses in college football, but they still found a way to grind out six wins with one of the best defenses in the ACC. It’s pretty astonishing that they are able to continue to win and get to bowl games in spite of their offense. At this point, it seems like this sort of style of play under Steve Addazio may have hit its ceiling. His job will be safe for getting the Eagles to another bowl game, but there will have to be improvements made on offense in the near future if he wants to be in Chesnut Hill long-term.
My vote has to go to N.C. State. After falling to Boston College at home their bowl prospects looked bleak. Those chances got even worse after dropping their home finale to Miami. The heat in the media was heavy on Coach Dave Doeren and the team looked uninspired. However, they rallied and upset their rivals down the road in Chapel Hill in a game where they were double-digit underdogs. It took that upset to get them into a bowl and save Coach Doeren’s job. Credit them for stepping up and taking advantage of their last chance to make a bowl game. Many in their own fanbase didn’t have much faith in them getting there.
I’ll second the Boston College pick. Having seen them play in person once and on television a few times, I’ve been taken aback by how easily BC is dominated in the trenches. When Boston College has been good — and it wasn’t even that long ago — they had NFL caliber lineman on both sides of the football. The defense is still hanging in there despite losing some key players and coordinator Don Brown after last season, but the offensive line is in dire straights. You have to tip your cap to BC for the ability to grind out wins against N.C. State and Wake Forest down the stretch.
2) What’s the ‘under-the-radar’ game you’re most looking forward to?
The Military Bowl should actually be very interesting to watch unfold. When you look at Temple and Wake Forest, they are both very, very different when it comes to their approach to the game. Wake Forest has made their living stopping the run and running the football, while Temple’s strengths seem to be throwing the football and playing solid overall defense. This game is a complete contrast of styles, and I’m interested to see which team adapts more quickly to the opposing team’s style, and which team is able to better impose their style of play on the game more than the other. It’ll be a very different game that can go in a number of different directions, even though most may dismiss it as a boring bowl game.
The Russell Athletic Bowl between West Virginia and Miami has my attention. I just want to see what Miami team shows up. If their defense plays to their potential it could be a great game. The Hurricane offense needs to be in sync too to keep up with the Mountaineer offense. If Miami plays like they “want” to be there an upset is possible. I want to see what progress Richt has made the past month.
I’m not sure if this counts as truly ‘under-the-radar’ but The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl between No. 13 Louisville and No. 22 LSU is quite the match up for a game outside the New Year’s Six. Leonard Fournette won’t be playing of course, but his backup Derrius Guice has been a force in his own right gaining 1,249 yards with 14 touchdowns this season while Fournette has battled injuries. Louisville brings Heisman Trophy winner and sportcoat aficionado Lamar Jackson and a plethora of talent to the table. A table presumably filled with chicken wings.
3) Who is poised to become a bigger national star during bowl season?
In my mind, in order for a player to really jump off the screen and become a national star, it has to be in a game that a ton of people will be watching. With that being said, I believe that freshman receiver Ahmmon Richards of the Miami Hurricanes will be poised for a big game against #16 West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. This is one of the more intriguing non-New Year’s Six bowl games of the 2016-17 bowl season, and I believe that it is a match-up primed to produce a ton of points. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya finished the season strong and developed a rapport with the swiftly improving Richards, who hauled in 46 catches for 866 yards and a pair of scores on the season. He has been the primary downfield threat in the Hurricanes’ offense, averaging 18.8 yards per reception on the year.
That’s a great question. A few names come to mind for me. Ryan Switzer from UNC. Bucky Hodges from Virginia Tech. Anybody on Louisville not named Lamar Jackson? Hodges is that guy who fits that hybrid-TE type like Rob Gronkowski and could cause fits for Arkansas. Switzer won’t have to compete with Christian McCaffery now for the spotlight. If he repeats the production of his last game he could have a huge game. These two are well-known in the ACC but not nationally.
Quite possibly someone from Louisville’s defense. I think most people tuned in a couple of times to watch Jackson do his thing and maybe didn’t notice how good the Cardinals are on the other side of the ball. Chucky Williams and Jaire Alexander have loads of big-play potential having combined for 131 tackles and eight interceptions this season. That does depend on LSU throwing the ball though. Don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman impresses some folks whose NFL clubs are looking for a QB. People who missed his performance against Clemson are in for an efficient treat.
4) Which program is best positioned to use its bowl as a springboard into next season?
This is a no-brainer for me, it has to be the Virginia Tech Hokies. With a 9-4 regular season, including a very competitive loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship, the Hokies’ season is already a startling success in the first year under new coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies could capture their first 10-win season since 2011 (11-3), and will be returning most of their starters next season on both sides of the football. The Hokies should be a major player in the ACC’s Coastal Division next season, and a victory over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl should give the team positive momentum on the recruiting trail and on the field next season.
Which program is best positioned to use its bowl as a springboard into next season? I think every team that wins their game can do that this bowl season. But if I had to chose I think teams like VT and Pitt would like to finish strong and hold their Top 25 rankings. Both played well down the stretch and would like to avoid a loss that would overshadow that success in the offseason. It would cap off a successful first season for VT Head Coach Justin Fuente, and help Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi keep his program moving forward. And I can’t help but think a win over Michigan would be a big deal for Florida State, who had high aspirations for this season.
Miami and Louisville both have a shot to set the table nicely for next season. The Cardinals could finish ranked in the top ten despite losing their final two regular season games. The Canes could also sneak back into the top 25 with a win over ranked West Virginia. That would put Miami at 9-4 in Mark Richt’s first season with a five-game winning streak to end a season that was derailed in the middle by a four-game losing streak.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the championship game! Follow us on Twitter @jeffgberg, @MikeMcDanielACC, and @BestCates and follow @InsideTheACC for more Atlantic Coast Conference coverage.