ACC: Music City Bowl 2012

Here’s a quick look back at Vanderbilt’s 38-24 win over NC State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl:

It was over when: On fourth-and-14 with just over five minutes left in the game, Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers made the best throw of the day and extended what would be the game-clinching scoring drive. His 14-yard pass to Jordan Matthews set Vandy up on NC State’s 20-yard line, and Rodgers scored three plays later to give Vandy a 38-17 lead.

Gameball goes to: Vanderbilt’s defense. The opportunistic Commodores forced five turnovers. (It could have been six, but NC State recovered one of its fumbles.) Vandy had three interceptions, and forced two fumbles -- quite a stat line considering the Commodores entered the game with just 13 takeaways all season. Vandy also held NC State to just 41 yards rushing and had three sacks.

Stat of the game: Five turnovers. NC State turned the ball over four times in the first half. The Pack had two fumbles and also two interceptions by quarterback Mike Glennon, leading to a 28-14 halftime lead for Vanderbilt. A fumble in the second quarter led to Vandy’s 14-0 lead, and an interception later in the half led to another Vandy touchdown. An interception by Glennon to start the second half led to a Vanderbilt field goal and a 31-14 lead.

Unsung hero: Rodgers. Even with the five turnovers, NC State still had a chance in the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession ballgame -- until Rodgers made that clutch throw on fourth down. He finished with 108 yards passing, but also accounted for one rushing and one passing touchdown.

What NC State learned: First-year coach Dave Doeren has a lot of work to do in his first season. The Wolfpack were outplayed in all three phases of the game, and recruiting will obviously be a priority. NC State went 0-2 against the SEC this year, including a loss to a 5-7 Tennessee team in the season opener. The Tom O'Brien era is officially over, as interim coach and former offensive coordinator Dana Bible's career at NC State came to an end.

What Vanderbilt learned: The program has reached another milestone. The Music City Bowl win equaled the team’s single-season record of nine victories, set in 1904 and matched in 1915. Vandy extended its winning streak to seven games, the program’s longest in three decades.

What it means: Vandy is no longer a pushover and one of the few SEC teams the ACC can actually beat. The SEC continues its stranglehold on the ACC. The ACC dropped to 1-2 in its bowl games.

Music City Bowl keys

December, 31, 2012
Here are three keys for NC State against Vanderbilt in today’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (noon ET, ESPN):

1. Ignore the intangibles. This could be an emotional game for interim coach Dana Bible, who is working his first game as a head coach also knowing it will be his last at NC State. New coach Dave Doeren has already taken over and hired a new offensive coordinator and most of his staff, but Bible, a longtime friend of former Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien, was tasked with coaching the bowl game. NC State also has to face a Vandy team which will essentially be playing in its own backyard. NC State and its coaches have to stay focused despite the awkward intangibles involved.

2. Win on third downs. Vanderbilt’s defense has been stingy this year, particularly on third downs. The Commodores are No. 12 in the country in third-down conversion defense, holding opponents to 30.9 percent. NC State, meanwhile has struggled on third downs this season, ranking No. 74 with a 38.9 percent conversion rate. The Pack has to be able to sustain drives against a unit that finished the regular season ranked among the top 20 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon is going to have to be sharp.

3. Stop the run. In each of NC State’s past three losses, the Wolfpack allowed more than 200 rushing yards. The Pack’s rushing defense has been average at best this year, and Vandy will present another challenge. All-SEC running back and school career rushing leader Zac Stacy finished fifth in the league with 1,034 rushing yards.

Pregame: Music City Bowl

December, 31, 2012
NC State (7-5, 4-4 ACC) vs. Vanderbilt (8-4, 5-3 SEC)

WHO TO WATCH: NC State quarterback Mike Glennon. He is a legitimate pro prospect who finished first in the ACC in passing yards per game (304) and second in total offense (292 yards per game). He was clutch in the fourth quarter of a dramatic upset of then-No. 3 Florida State during the regular season. He threw for 30 touchdowns this season and 14 interceptions. Vandy’s defense, though, has allowed just six passing touchdowns and an average of 175.8 passing yards to rank in the top 10 nationally in each category.

WHAT TO WATCH: NC State’s rushing defense against Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy. In conference play, All-SEC running back and school career rushing leader Stacy finished fifth in the league with 1,034 rushing yards. The Commodores ranked 53rd nationally with an average of 170.4 rushing yards per game. NC State’s rushing defense has been average this year, allowing 157.9 yards per game.

WHY TO WATCH: Vandy is on a hot streak under second-year coach James Franklin. The Commodores are riding a six-game winning streak, the program’s longest in three decades, and this is the first time in school history that Vanderbilt will make back-to-back postseason appearances. A win in the Music City Bowl would equal the team’s single-season record of nine victories, set in 1904 and matched in 1915. For NC State, it’s the last game with the Wolfpack for offensive coordinator/interim coach Dana Bible, who replaced good friend Tom O’Brien. O’Brien was fired at the end of the season and replaced by Dave Doeren of Northern Illinois.

PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 24, NC State 17: The Commodores’ defense will be the difference. Vanderbilt ranks No. 17 in the country in total defense, No. 15 in points allowed and No. 10 in passing defense. Vandy will fluster Glennon into making some mistakes, and a turnover or two will be the difference.
At 6-foot-6 and one of the most productive passers in school history, NC State quarterback Mike Glennon shouldn’t have a problem getting a shot in the NFL.

As far as backup plans go, though, Glennon is set.

It only took three years for Glennon to graduate with a degree in finance, and on Saturday, he will graduate with his master’s degree in liberal studies. He never dropped a class, averaged 15-17 credits each semester, always enrolled in summer school and took advantage of online courses. While his goal is to play in the NFL, he is also interested in the business side of sports as a potential career path. With two degrees to fall back on, Glennon will have his final audition for the NFL in an NC State uniform when the Wolfpack faces Vanderbilt in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

[+] EnlargeNC State's Mike Glennon
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsNC State quarterback Mike Glennon has a master's degree and is a top NFL prospect.
“I just figured I’d make the most of my opportunity while I was getting a free education,” he said. “I know one day football will end for me. I hope it’s not in the near future, but eventually one day I’ll have to fall back on these degrees and apply them some way.”

Glennon’s accomplishments off the field have been remarkable considering the balancing act he did while leading NC State’s offense. Glennon is the only quarterback in the ACC and one of just three in the BCS to have accounted for all of his team’s passing yards this season. He has been clutch in the red zone, completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 202 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception.

Glennon enters the Music City Bowl averaging 304.0 passing yards a game, the second-best mark in school history. With 30 touchdown passes in 2012, he is now the first quarterback in NC State history to pass for 30 or more touchdowns in two different seasons, as he threw for 31 a year ago. In fact, Glennon and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd are the only players in ACC history ever to accomplish that feat, and they have done it at the same time (Boyd had 33 TD throws in 2011 and 34 this season).

He could be rewarded as a second-round pick in this year’s NFL draft. Todd McShay lists Glennon as one of the top five quarterbacks to be taken after the first round. Mel Kiper Jr. also thinks highly of Glennon, as he has Glennon listed No. 3 at his position among senior prospects.

“I realize this last game is real important for everything involved,” Glennon said of the bowl. “I have accepted to go to the Senior Bowl, so I will start training for that as soon as the bowl game is over and hopefully put myself in a good situation as the draft gets closer.”

With two degrees, he’s already put himself in a good position regardless of what happens in the draft.

Ranking the ACC bowl games

December, 4, 2012
Now that the college bowl games are out, it is time to rank 'em!

Colleague Mark Schlabach has his list of all 35 games, from best to worst. Here is where Schlabach has ranked the ACC games:

No. 4 Chick-fil-A Bowl: LSU vs. Clemson, Dec. 31, Atlanta.

Our take: There is no two ways around this ranking -- the Chick-fil-A Bowl should be one of the best in the bowl season, better than just about every BCS bowl game that is not the national championship. It is a marquee matchup of SEC vs. ACC, and this is a HUGE opportunity for a league that went 0-4 vs. SEC opponents on the final week of the regular season. How does All-American Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd stack up against one of the best defenses in the land? Didn't go so well for him against South Carolina.

No. 8 Discover Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State, Jan. 1, Miami.

Our take: I'm not sure this game would have ranked any higher had Louisville been the opponent, quite honestly. Given all the hubbub over the Huskies' inclusion, I'm betting the Orange Bowl may get better TV ratings with this matchup. And don't expect this one to be a walk over for the Noles, either. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch is a player to watch.

No. 14 Hyundai Sun Bowl, USC vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 31, El Paso, Texas.

Our take: Perhaps this qualifies as the third-best game on the slate because the Jackets are playing the former No. 1 team in the nation, but this is going to be the toughest matchup for the ACC to win by far. How will the Jackets slow down Marqise Lee, especially if Matt Barkley is ready to go?

No. 17 Russell Athletic Bowl, Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers, Dec. 28, Orlando, Fla.

Our take: Hey, it is a former Big East battle! Does that have your juices flowing yet? Didn't think so. This is a game that features little to nothing in the way of offensive firepower. Logan Thomas and Gary Nova have combined to throw 29 interceptions this year. Oh, and Virginia Tech is 0-2 against the Big East already on the season.

No. 21 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, NC State vs. Vanderbilt, Dec. 31, Nashville, Tenn.

Our take: I think this one should be ranked higher than the Sun and Russell Athletic Bowls, because I think this is going to be a much better game. James Franklin has a familiarity with NC State, and I think the Wolfpack will be motivated, even without coach Tom O'Brien on the sideline. It should be noted that Vanderbilt has not beaten one team with a winning record this season.

No. 25 Belk Bowl, Cincinnati vs. Duke, Dec. 27, Charlotte, N.C.

Our take: I would probably rank this one higher than the Sun Bowl because I think it has the potential to be a much more fun game to watch. The Blue Devils are going to be fired up in their first bowl appearance since 1994 and will get some home-field advantage playing in-state. Cincinnati has a terrific rushing game that Duke is going to have to slow down.
NC State Wolfpack (7-5) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (8-4)

Dec. 31, Noon ET, Nashville, Tenn. (ESPN)

NC State take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: It was a wild, unpredictable season for NC State that ended in the firing of former coach Tom O’Brien just one day after the regular season had ended. Offensive coordinator Dana Bible will coach the Wolfpack in its bowl game, but former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren was hired on Saturday to replace O’Brien.

NC State began the season with a disappointing loss to Tennessee in which weaknesses in the highly touted secondary were immediately exposed. The Pack went on to win its next three games, but lost the ACC season opener against Miami. In typical inexplicable NC State fashion, the Pack responded the following week by knocking off then-No. 3 Florida State in what was one of the biggest upsets in program history. It was a shocking fourth quarter that resonated throughout all of college football and all but ended the Seminoles’ hopes of playing for a national title. Despite the 17-16 win over FSU, though, NC State couldn’t translate that upset into anything meaningful in the Atlantic Division standings (a major reason O’Brien was fired).

Instead, NC State suffered its first loss in five seasons to rival North Carolina and was embarrassed at home in a baffling loss to a struggling Virginia team. NC State rallied to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible, but it wasn’t enough to save O’Brien’s job. Doeren, who led Northern Illinois to its second straight MAC championship on Friday night, will not coach his former team in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Vanderbilt take from SEC blogger Chris Low: Counting up all the firsts this season for Vanderbilt would take a while.

James Franklin, in his second season as coach, has come in and taken this program to heights that few people thought possible. Their Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl matchup with NC State will be the Commodores' second straight bowl appearance. It’s the first time in school history that the Commodores have gone to bowl games in back-to-back years. Their eight wins in the regular season are their most since 1982, and their five SEC wins are their most since 1935. They enter the postseason on a six-game winning streak, and probably the best news for the Commodores is that they’ve locked up Franklin to a new contract. The university announced on Sunday that Franklin had agreed to a new deal, which will include enhancements to the football complex and Vanderbilt Stadium.

Franklin’s phone has rung a bunch ever since the season ended with other schools inquiring about his interest, but the Commodores have convinced him that they’re serious about building a winning football program. Franklin has assembled an excellent staff, which is reflected in the Commodores’ discipline and their mental toughness. They’re ranked 17th nationally in total defense, the second straight season that defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has field a top-20 defense nationally. Only four times this season did a team score more than 21 points against Vanderbilt.

Offensively, senior Zac Stacy went over the 1,000-yard mark rushing for the second straight season, and the receiving combo of Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd combined for more than 2,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.