- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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I finished the regular season with a picks percentage of 74.2, but I missed the one that mattered most and failed to pick the upset in the ACC championship game. That’s why they call it an upset. My grand total for the season stands at 72-26 heading into bowl season. Plenty of room for improvement, but there are a lot of tough calls and games that can go either way this bowl season. Here are your picks for the non-BCS bowls:
Advocare V100 Independence Bowl -- Missouri 31, North Carolina 28: The Tar Heels will get an inspired performance in interim coach Everett Withers’ last game, but Missouri is a better team than its five losses indicate. North Carolina will make one or two costly turnovers, and the Tar Heels’ defense won’t be able to make enough stops in the red zone.
Belk Bowl -- NC State 28, Louisville 21: Both quarterbacks will need to get better protection than they have for most of the season, and both teams have seen their defenses improve, but NC State has done a tremendous job this year of forcing opposing quarterbacks into mistakes, and Teddy Bridgewater will find that out quickly. The difference will be NC State’s front seven on defense.
Champs Sports Bowl -- Florida State 21, Notre Dame 17: This is significantly below the 30 points both teams are averaging this year, but Florida State’s defense will again be the difference. Even if the Noles can’t get things going again offensively, Florida State’s defense and special teams are good enough to offset it against the Irish. Notre Dame is No. 116 in the country in turnover margin, and Florida State is capable not only of forcing quarterback Tommy Rees into a turnover, but also of scoring on it.
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl -- Wake Forest 24, Mississippi State 21. The Demon Deacons have too many difference-makers on both sides of the ball for the Bulldogs to overcome. It’s been a record-setting year for Price and receiver Chris Givens, and freshman cornerback Merrill Noel leads the nation with 20 passes defended. The difference will be Wake Forest’s passing game and its ability to protect the ball.
Hyundai Sun Bowl -- Georgia Tech 28, Utah 24. The Utes couldn’t handle a floundering Colorado team that had just one league win in the regular-season finale, and this will be a much more difficult challenge. Those within Georgia Tech’s program are tired of hearing about the six-game losing streak, and coach Paul Johnson is at his best when he’s got something to prove. Georgia Tech will catch Utah off-guard with several big plays, control the clock and in turn the game.
Chick-fil-A Bowl -- Virginia 24, Auburn 21: The Tigers lost both coordinators in a span of a week, and leading rusher Michael Dyer has been suspended for the bowl game for a violation of team rules. Without those three components, Virginia has an edge. Plus, Auburn is a shadow of its 2010 national championship team, while Virginia has made a dramatic turnaround this year. Statistically, Auburn has one of the worst offenses in the country, and the defense has been at the bottom of the SEC.