ACC: 2010 blog bowl overview

North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (6-6)

Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)

North Carolina take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: North Carolina, which began the season ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press preseason poll, had much higher hopes this season, but considering how injuries and suspensions decimated the roster, an appearance in a bowl game is not an accomplishment those within the program take lightly. Carolina is in a bowl game for the third straight season, the school’s longest streak since going to seven straight bowl games from 1992-98. UNC and Tennessee had previously agreed to play in 2011 and 2012, but Tennessee canceled the series.

UNC returned all but two starters on defense and was expected to contend for the ACC title in coach Butch Davis’ fourth season, but the Tar Heels lost 14 players for at least one game and seven for the entire season because of a two-pronged NCAA investigation. UNC started the season with back-to-back losses, but a four-game winning streak revived their bowl hopes.

Backups have played integral roles for Carolina, but veteran quarterback T.J. Yates has been one of the most improved players in the country this year and at the heart of the team’s success. He is No. 2 in the conference in passing efficiency and No. 2 in passing average per game.

Tennessee take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Tennessee was 0-for-October earlier this season and staring at a 2-6 record. Granted, the competition got a lot easier, but the Vols rebounded nicely under first-year coach Derek Dooley to earn a trip to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

Tennessee’s surge here at the end of the season started with Dooley turning the keys of the offense over to true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray, and the cool Californian responded by throwing 12 touchdown passes in his four starts.

The Vols also have one of the better group of receivers in the SEC. Seniors Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones have both had big seasons, but true freshmen Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers have also come on during this winning streak.

All told, Tennessee has 21 first-year players in its two-deep, and at times, had three freshmen playing on the offensive line. The Vols have also been a lot better on defense these past four games and kept teams out of the end zone.

To get to seven wins and finish a game above .500 would be a real accomplishment for this team and would match last season’s 7-6 record -- when it looked like the closest the Vols would get to a bowl game back in October was watching one on television.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Nevada Wolf Pack (12-1) vs. Boston College Eagles (7-5)

Jan. 9, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Nevada take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Wolf Pack have put together the best season in school history: 12-1, WAC co-champs and a No. 15 national ranking. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has to be one of the most underrated players in the country. This past Saturday, he became just the third player in NCAA history to rush and pass for 20 touchdowns in the same season, joining Tim Tebow of Florida and Cam Newton of Auburn. Kaepernick had 155 yards rushing in a 35-17 win over Louisiana Tech, becoming the third quarterback in NCAA history to run for over 4,000 yards. He also had three rushing touchdowns, giving him 59 for his career, tied atop the NCAA rankings with Eric Crouch.

Nevada has had its breakout season because Kaepernick is running the Pistol offense to perfection. The Pistol has in fact become all the rage across the country, and that is because of inventor -- Nevada coach Chris Ault. Running back Vai Taua and Kaepernick have combined to be the most prolific rushing duo in NCAA history, passing Craig James and Eric Dickerson of SMU. After beating California earlier this year, it would send a strong statement to close out the season with yet another win over a team from an AQ conference. But keep in mind -- Nevada has lost four straight bowl games. Of course, those teams weren’t as strong as this one. I’ll come right out and say it -- Nevada can compete with anybody in the country right now.

Boston College take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Under the direction of true freshman quarterback Chase Rettig, Boston College became the first ACC program to follow a five-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak, and for that the Eagles have been rewarded with their 12th straight bowl appearance. BC reversed its fortunes with the proven formula of running the ball and playing stingy defense. Even with leading rusher Montel Harris sidelined for the final two games of the regular season, the Eagles were able to establish their ground game, thanks to true freshman backup Andre Williams, who helped lead the team to wins over Virginia and Syracuse.

Equally as important as their ability to run the ball this year has been BC’s ability to stop it. The Eagles lead the nation in rushing defense, and have allowed just 962 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns, a 2.7 average per carry and only 80.2 yards per game on the ground. Much of that can be attributed to the exceptional play of linebacker Luke Kuechly, who led the nation in tackles this year and was named the most outstanding defensive player in the same bowl game last year. The Eagles have also been helped by the return of linebacker Mark Herzlich, who made a full recovery from Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer after missing the entire 2009 season.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

December, 6, 2010
South Carolina Gamecocks (9-4) vs. Florida State Seminoles (9-4)

Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

South Carolina take by SEC blogger Chris Low: South Carolina had only played one game indoors in its entire history prior to last Saturday’s 56-17 loss to Auburn in the SEC championship game.

Now, the Gamecocks (9-4) will play their second game indoors in less than a month, as they return to the Georgia Dome to face Florida State on Dec. 31 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Merely getting to the SEC championship game was an accomplishment for the Gamecocks when you consider they’d never previously been. Their performance would suggest they didn’t belong, but a lot of that had to do with Auburn.

South Carolina has some of the finest young talent in the SEC in freshman running back Marcus Lattimore, sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffery and sophomore cornerback Stephon Gilmore, although Gilmore is coming off a rough outing in the SEC championship game.

When Lattimore has had big games this season, the Gamecocks have won.

Defensively, they’ve been shredded through the air and were again against Cam Newton and Auburn last Saturday. But they’re good up front and led the SEC with 39 sacks this season. Their undoing has been giving up too many big plays, and they’ve also been an inconsistent tackling team.

Florida State take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Overall, it’s been an impressive season for Florida State, considering the Seminoles won nine games, finished 6-2 in the ACC, won the Atlantic Division and played for the league title in Jimbo Fisher’s first year as a head coach.

Still, this is the consolation prize for the Seminoles, the runners-up in the ACC championship game, and it’s not going to get any easier. Florida State’s defense, which has made significant strides this year under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops, couldn’t find an answer for Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the 44-33 loss to the Hokies. It’s going to have to find one for standout South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery.

The Seminoles rank No. 2 in the nation sacks and are No. 17 in tackles for loss, but really struggled to get Virginia Tech off the field on third downs. Florida State has also had problems at quarterback, where starter Christian Ponder missed the title game because blood was found in the fluid drained from his elbow last week. Backup E.J. Manuel threw for almost 300 yards but had two interceptions in his place.

FSU was also held to just 53 rushing yards against Virginia Tech, so there are plenty of areas for improvement heading into the final game of the season, but also much to build on for next year.
East Carolina Pirates (6-6) vs. Maryland Terrapins (8-4)

Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

East Carolina take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Pirates were tabbed to have a rebuilding year under first-year coach Ruffin McNeill, especially with only two starters returning on defense. After opening the season strong at 5-2, the Pirates fell apart, losing four of their last five because their defense just didn't hold up. In those five games, East Carolina gave up 54.8 points per game. They rank last in the nation in total defense and No. 118 in scoring defense, and gave up an embarrassing 76 points in a loss to Navy.

But anytime you play East Carolina, you are most likely going to get into a shootout because their offense has been prolific behind quarterback Dominique Davis. The Boston College transfer threw for 3,699 yards and 36 touchdowns this season, leading the league in passing. His top receiver is Dwayne Harris, who had 1,055 yards and 10 touchdown receptions this season and led the league in receptions per game with 7.8. East Carolina won back-to-back Conference USA championships before this season, so the Pirates are no strangers to winning big games. But they have dropped four of their last five bowl games and are going to need to keep up on offense to have any shot in this game.

Maryland take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was expecting a higher-tier bowl for his eight-win Terps, but considering the program won just two games a year ago, those within it are also happy to be back in the postseason.

Friedgen was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year for the turnaround, which was the second-best in the FBS this year, and quarterback Danny O’Brien was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. Together they put Maryland in position to win the Atlantic Division title, but a loss to Florida State knocked the Terps out of the title game race.

Maryland responded by playing the role of spoiler win a win over NC State in its season finale, a game in which O’Brien and receiver Torrey Smith had career days. Much of Maryland’s success this year can be attributed to its turnover margin, which is tied for seventh in the country. Defensively, Maryland has made significant improvement in defensive coordinator Don Brown’s second season. The Terps’ secondary will be tested by ECU quarterback Dominique Davis, whose 3,699 passing yards ranks fourth in the nation. Maryland ranks No. 9 in the country in pass efficiency defense. Maryland has won four of its past five bowl games and has outscored its last four bowl opponents 151-73.
Air Force Falcons (8-4) vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-6)

Dec. 27, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Air Force take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Falcons took home the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time in eight years after beating Navy and Army this season, an incredible achievement considering the stranglehold Navy has had on the service academies. Perhaps even more than that, though, Air Force made headlines this season after jumping out to a 5-1 start and nearly upsetting Oklahoma on the road. Then the tough part of the schedule hit -- with back-to-back-to-back games against San Diego State, TCU and Utah. Still, the Falcons rebounded nicely and are headed to a bowl game against a team that might appear to be a mirror image of them.

But what has made Air Force so successful this season has been quarterback Tim Jefferson. Air Force ranks No. 2 in the nation in rushing and runs a version of the triple option, as all the service academies do. But Jefferson posted career highs for rushing yards (769), rushing touchdowns (15), yards per rush (5.4), passing yards (1,342) and touchdown passes (10). It is his passing that has added a different dimension to this offense. Asher Clark also had a 1,000 yard season on the ground. Meanwhile, the defense is anchored by cornerback Reggie Rembert, a first-team AFCA All-American and first-team Mountain West player. He is the heart of that unit.

Georgia Tech take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The defending ACC champs were missing too many pieces from last year’s title team to repeat, but Georgia Tech (6-6, 4-4 ACC) was still able to become bowl eligible for the 14th straight time. That’s the fourth-longest active streak in the FBS. The question now is whether the Jackets can find a way to end their five-game losing streak in bowl games.

It should be an interesting matchup considering coach Paul Johnson’s recent history against Air Force. As head coach at Navy, Johnson lost to the Falcons in 2002 and then beat them five straight times. Both run versions of the triple option offense, and Georgia Tech leads the nation in rushing with 327 yards per game. The Jackets’ rushing defense is No. 78 in the country, allowing 169.67 yards per game.

Georgia Tech’s biggest problem this year has been on defense under first-year coordinator Al Groh, former head coach at Virginia. The Jackets are No. 60 in the country in scoring defense, allowing 26.17 points per game. Air Force is averaging 32.25 points per game. Georgia Tech has lost four of its past five games, but one of the biggest losses of the season was quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, the heart and soul of the offense.

Hyundai Sun Bowl

December, 5, 2010
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-5) vs. Miami Hurricanes (7-5)

Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET (CBS)

Notre Dame take by Fighting Irish blogger Brian Bennett: At the end of October, it didn't look like Notre Dame would be playing in any bowl. The Irish stood 4-5 after dispiriting losses to Navy and Tulsa. But then came the November to remember.

Almost as if Brian Kelly flipped a switch, the team suddenly came together for one of its most encouraging stretches in years. After blowout wins over Utah and Army, Notre Dame went on the road and used a fourth-quarter comeback to finally slay USC after eight years of misery.

The winning streak was all the more remarkable given the slew of injuries that struck South Bend. Starting quarterback Dayne Crist, leading rusher Armando Allen, star tight end Kyle Rudolph and standout nose tackle Ian Williams were just a few of the walking wounded unavailable to play.

But Kelly stitched the leftover parts together, and true freshman quarterback Tommy Rees won all three of his starts. The defense shockingly turned into a force, going more than 12 quarters without allowing a touchdown.

So now there's newfound enthusiasm for these Irish, and a Hyundai Sun Bowl name-brand matchup with Miami serves as a nice reward. Given that the Hurricanes limped to the finish and fired their head coach, Notre Dame should have an excellent chance to make it a December to remember, too.

Miami take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Expectations for Miami were soaring in Randy Shannon’s fourth season, but an inexplicable loss at Virginia and an overtime home loss to South Florida were too much for university officials to ignore. The Hurricanes’ season came unraveled in the season finale against the Bulls and the firing of Shannon followed hours later.\

That didn’t deter Hyundai Sun Bowl officials from choosing Miami against Notre Dame in a series rich with tradition. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has taken over as interim head coach and said the bowl practices will determine who his quarterback will be against the Irish. Both Jacory Harris, who played for the first time since suffering a concussion at Virginia on Oct. 30, and freshman Stephen Morris, threw interceptions against the Bulls. Miami finished 3-3 at home this year, its worst record since 1997, and that includes an embarrassing loss to rival Florida State. Miami’s strength has been its defense, as the Canes rank No. 2 nationally in pass defense, No. 6 in sacks and No. 1 in tackles for loss.

Stoutland said he has tried to convince his players that a bowl win is worth working for because it will give them positive momentum heading into the offseason regardless of who their next coach is.