ACC: 2008 blog bowl overview

Papajohns.com Bowl: NC State (6-6) vs. Rutgers (7-5)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
11:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Both of these teams made their turnarounds in the second half of the season. This is not the same Rutgers team that UNC beat in Piscataway on Sept. 11. This version of quarterback Mike Teel is much better. After losing five of their first six games, the Scarlet Knights finished the season on a six-game win streak. Rutgers is No. 2 in the Big East in total offense, and Teel has 3,099 yards and 23 touchdowns. NC State was plagued by injuries this season, but reeled off four straight wins to sneak into a bowl game.

The difference for the Wolfpack was also at quarterback, where Russell Wilson's mobility has caused opposing defenses headaches. He enters the postseason on a school-record streak of 226 passes without an interception, the longest in the nation. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and no interceptions in his past eight starts. Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene have helped by getting the ground game going, and the defense has improved significantly in recent weeks.

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl: Boston College (9-4) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
11:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The Eagles will try to pick themselves up after their ACC championship loss in what should be another defensive game.

Both teams have a knack for interceptions, and Vanderbilt has the worst pass efficiency in the SEC, while  the Eagles are still breaking in a new starting quarterback. Boston College will need more from quarterback Dominique Davis and running back Montel Harris than it got in on Saturday against Virginia Tech. Vanderbilt will probably use the same tactic the Hokies did, which was take away the running game and force the inexperienced quarterback to throw the ball. BC veteran receiver Rich Gunnell can help, but he can't do it all.

The Eagles have arguably the best defense in the ACC, but struggled against a faster team and got beat on simple pass reads and short routes. It should be an interesting matchup up front, as Vanderbilt is tied for third in the SEC with 30 sacks and BC's offensive line has allowed just 16, fewest in the ACC. After shocking the SEC with five straight wins to open the season, Vanderbilt finished the season by losing six of its last seven games, including a 23-10 defeat to Wake Forest.

EagleBank Bowl: Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Navy (8-4)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
10:43
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

There really wasn't any way to avoid a rematch between Wake Forest and Navy, and the Demon Deacons are determined not to lose twice to a team they should have beaten the first time around. This will be the first time in 63 years that Wake Forest has played the same team twice in one season. The Midshipmen beat the Deacs on their home field, 24-17, on Sept. 27.

Like many teams in the ACC, Wake Forest has been dependent upon its defense to win games, and Deacs have come through with their ability to create turnovers. Corner back Alphonso Smith is one of the best in the league, and linebacker Aaron Curry could be a first-round draft pick.

Receiver D.J. Boldin has been Riley Skinner's favorite target this season, but Wake Forest has struggled in the red zone, scoring just 20 touchdowns in 41 trips. That doesn't bode well, considering Navy's defense hasn't allowed a single point over its past eight quarters. The last team to score on Navy was Notre Dame on Nov. 15. Wake's problems on offense have started up front, and the Deacs have struggled to get a consistent running game going all season.

Meineke Car Care Bowl: UNC (8-4) vs. West Virginia (8-4)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
10:28
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

North Carolina couldn't get much closer to home for the holidays, and it's exactly what executive director Will Webb was hoping for. The Tar Heels will face a West Virginia team that finished third in the Big East and hasn't scored more than 15 points in its past two games. Still, shifty quarterback Pat White will present challenges for the Tar Heels' defense. White is 81 rushing yards shy of his third straight 1,000-yard season. He'll be throwing into a defense that has 19 interceptions this season. UNC's top priority will be stopping the run, as West Virginia averages a conference-best 217.2 yards per game.

The Tar Heels have had an inconsistent season, which was a product of its inconsistent offense. Butch Davis switched quarterbacks after a 17-15 loss to Maryland, but starter T.J. Yates, who was injured for half of the season, didn't look like himself until the season finale against Duke. The Mountaineers have the best scoring defense in the Big East, holding opponents to 15.9 points per game. UNC will need a strong performance from tailbacks Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston in order to open up the passing game for standout receiver Hakeem Nicks, who leads the ACC with 83.8 yards per game.

Roady's Humanitarian Bowl: Maryland (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
10:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's hard to believe that just a few weeks ago Maryland had the Atlantic Division title at its fingertips. They let it slip away with back-to-back losses against Florida State and Boston College and will now travel to Boise, where they will face a Nevada team that finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Western Athletic Conference behind undefeated Boise State.

Nevada won three of its last four regular-season games and has one of the top offenses in the nation, ranking fifth in total offense (510.6 yards per game) and second in rushing (291.4 ypg). Running back Vai Taua has rushed for 1,420 yards, while quarterback Colin Kaepernick has 1,115 rushing yards and 2,479 passing yards.

It will be a legitimate test for a defense that has been inconsistent all season. Maryland has struggled to run the ball well consistently this season, and has twice been held to negative yardage. Nevada ranks fifth in the country in rushing defense (74.5 ypg). It will also be a tough challenge for the Terps' offensive line, which has struggled in the past two games to protect quarterback Chris Turner. Kevin Basped (10.0) and Dontay Moch (9.5) have combined for almost 20 sacks.

Gator Bowl: Clemson (7-5) vs. Nebraska (8-4)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
9:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

This decision didn't sit well with some folks in Tallahassee, but Clemson's fan base travels well, and the Tigers finished the season with three straight wins, including a big one over rival South Carolina in the season finale.

Clemson will have a partly new coaching staff on the sideline for this game, and coach Dabo Swinney could hire a defensive coordinator after it.

Defense wasn't Clemson's problem this season, and it will be key in this game. In the ACC, Nebraska's 36.2 points per game would look spectacular and lead the conference. In the gun-slinging Big 12, it's merely middle of the pack.

Clemson's secondary, led by safety Michael Hamlin, is tough to beat. But how it reacts to its first game without defensive coordinator and secondary coach Vic Koenning remains to be seen.

Clemson's top offensive players have been more noticeable in recent weeks and that's due in large part to the offensive line finally being healthy and coming together. Nebraska finished the season on a three-game winning streak in Bo Pelini's first season. The Huskers often beat themselves this season, as they have the worst turnover margin in the Big 12 (minus-10).

Emerald Bowl: Miami (7-5) vs. Cal (8-4)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
9:39
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Miami is back in the postseason after missing it last year, a small but important step in getting the program back to where it needs to be. The Hurricanes have depended on young playmakers all season, and the defense has struggled in the Canes' past two losses against Georgia Tech and NC State. They'll have to improve their running defense to stop talented sophomore Jahvid Best, who has 1,394 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

Maryland was able to hold Best to just 25 yards on Sept. 13 in a 35-27 win, but this time, Cal won't have to travel across the country. Miami has the No. 2 scoring offense in the ACC, but has been inconsistent behind the play of quarterbacks Robert Marve and Jacory Harris. The young receivers have also had a few drops this season. Miami has 19 interceptions and 20 touchdowns, and will face the Pac-10's leader in interceptions (21) and the No. 2 scoring defense. The Canes have been at their best when Graig Cooper and Javarris James get the ground game going. Cal finished its seasons with back-to-back wins, while the Hurricanes lost their final two. The Canes lead the series 2-1.

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Georgia Tech (9-3) vs. LSU (7-5)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
9:15
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The bowl officials in Atlanta rewarded Georgia Tech for an outstanding season in Paul Johnson's first year as head coach. While they didn't play for the ACC title this season, the Yellow Jackets were arguably the hottest team in the league a week ago after their win over rival Georgia. LSU finished its season with back-to-back losses for the first time since 2002, and doesn't much resemble the 2007 national champs.

It takes a disciplined defense to stop Johnson's triple option offense, and LSU was No. 11 in the SEC in scoring defense. Georgia Tech was one of the more complete teams in the ACC this season, as it was productive on both sides of the ball. The Jackets, led by Jonathan Dwyer, led the ACC with 282.3 rushing yards per game, but also proved capable of throwing the ball if they need to. Safety Morgan Burnett led the nation in interceptions, and the veteran defensive line is comprised of players who are all likely to go onto successful careers in the NFL. The Tigers are 4-0 in this bowl game, but Georgia Tech leads the series 12-6.

Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State (8-4) vs. Wisconsin (7-5)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
9:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Florida State will face a middle-of-the-pack Wisconsin team that was reflective of a bulk of the Big Ten -- average. The Badgers were expected to contend for the Big Ten title, but fell below the preseason expectations and barely escaped their season finale against Cal Poly.

It's the first time these programs have met, and they're similar in that their strengths are both their running games. The Badgers finished the regular season 14th nationally and lead the Big Ten with 212 rushing yards per game, and are led by P.J. Hill, who has 1,021 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

The Seminoles are holding opponents to an average of 291.8 total yards, and have the No. 5 rushing defense in the ACC. Wisconsin's challenge will also be to stop the run -- namely Antone Smith and Jermaine Thomas -- and force quarterback Christian Ponder into throwing the ball deep and making mistakes.

The Badgers will also be challenged to match Florida State's speedy playmakers, and stop the ACC's No. 1 scoring defense at 32.7 points per game. Wisconsin has the No. 5 rushing defense in the Big Ten at 133.2 yards per game. Wisconsin won three straight to end the season.

FedEx Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech (9-4) vs. Cincinnati (11-2)

December, 7, 2008
12/07/08
8:38
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

One of the first things Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said after winning the ACC title game was the team wanted to represent the ACC well this season at the Orange Bowl -- something they didn't do in last year's 24-21 loss to Kansas. The Hokies are peaking at just the right time, as the freshmen receivers have proven capable of making the offense less one-dimensional, and they're giving quarterback Tyrod Taylor more options. Tailback Darren Evans has also started to catch the ball out of the backfield a bit more, and Beamer has continued to praise freshman Dyrell Roberts, who played well on Saturday against Boston College.

Still, the Hokies don't exactly have a prolific offense and will need their stingy defense against the No. 3 scoring offense in the Big East. Cincinnati has won a school-record 11 games, including six straight, but is making its first BCS appearance in school history. The Bearcats have used five quarterbacks this season, but have had consistent receivers in Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard. The Hokies offensive line will have a tough job protecting Taylor against a defense that led the Big East in sacks this season.

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