Upset Watch: ACC bowl edition

December, 21, 2011
12/21/11
10:30
AM ET
The Upset Watch is back, this time in postseason form. For those of you who paid attention during the regular season, you know that this list has been the kiss of death for several teams this year. There was a seven-week stretch during the season in which every game listed at No. 1 on the upset watch came true. None of the games listed in the final week of the regular season, though, came to fruition. Virginia Tech dominated UVa once again, Clemson lost to South Carolina for a third straight time, and -- would you believe it? --Maryland blew a 27-point lead against NC State (believe it).

As we head into bowl season, here is a look at which teams have the best chance to be upset -- or in some cases, play the role of spoiler. Remember, these are NOT predictions (those are coming soon). Rather, it’s an impartial look at the most likely upsets involving the league:

Virginia vs. No. 25 Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. We’re going with the final BCS standings, but the perception also seems to be that just because Auburn is in the SEC and is still the defending national champ (oh, and also because Virginia got blown out 38-0 by rival Virginia Tech in the regular-season finale), the Tigers will win. Not so fast. Consider that Auburn lost both of its coordinators in a week’s span and its leading rusher is suspended for the game. Those are factors that can’t be ignored, and anyone who’s paid close attention to the Cavaliers this season would probably tell you they’re better than they played against the Hokies.

No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. If you’re going by the final BCS standings, a Michigan win would be considered an upset. If you’re going by public perception and the Associated Press Top 25, which has Michigan at No. 13 and Virginia Tech at No. 17, it wouldn’t be. ESPN.com consistently refers to the BCS standings, so we’ll stick with that. Both programs have faced their fair share of criticism for their at-large BCS bowl bids, but it seems (at least from this chair) that the Hokies have endured more. They are out to prove they deserve to play in the Sugar Bowl, but Michigan’s stingy defense coupled with the abilities of quarterback Denard Robinson will make that a difficult task.

No. 15 Clemson vs. No. 23 West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl. The Tigers should be favored to win this game, and they are the higher-ranked team, but Clemson, as you know, is a wee bit unpredictable. Which team will show up? The one that dominated Virginia Tech twice, including in the ACC championship game? Or the one that lost three of its final four regular-season games and turned the ball over too frequently? The Mountaineers, much like Clemson, have a high-powered offense with several of the nation’s top playmakers. If Clemson’s defense isn’t up to the challenge, the ACC will strike out again on the BCS stage.

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