The regular season is complete. Conference Champions have been crowned. Bowl bids have been accepted. The final CFP Rankings have been released.
Now it comes time for the festive time part of college football.
And with that comes the Annual Bowl Mania Challenge, sponsored by Capital One and ESPN. Want your chance at a $20 cash prize? Simply enter our our Bowl Mania Challenge group before the first game kicks off (tomorrow). Entry is free and you can submit up to two entries to compete with. Think you can dethrone us as the reigning champion?
Here’s a quick rundown of the bowl games the ACC is competing in as well as our picks for all those games.
Monday, December 26th
Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland (6-6) vs Boston College (6-6)
The Quick Lane Bowl will be the first of four bowl games between the Big Ten and ACC. This one will kick off at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 26 on Detroit’s Ford Field.
How to beat Boston College: Simple as it sounds: Score! BC’s offense improved over last season’s unit, with Kentucky graduate transfer quarterback Patrick Towles leading the charge. That said, the Eagles still ranked at or near the bottom of the ACC in most major offensive categories, including last in total offense, last in yards per play and last in scoring. Get BC into a situation where it is forced to play catch-up, and you have a good shot at outracing the Eagles, who eclipsed the 30-point total against FBS competition just twice this season — and never against a Power-5 opponent. BC averaged just 12 points per game against Power-5 competition this season. Of course, scoring on the Eagles is easier said than done. — Matt Fortuna
How to beat Maryland: Stop the run. It’s as simple and as hard as that. When the Terps rush for at least 230 yards, they’re 6-1. (Their only loss came in a 42-36 shootout against Indiana.) When they rush for less than that, they’re 0-6. This is a run-first team that isn’t going to sling the ball downfield — it only once surpassed the 250-yard passing plateau — so the success on offense is often dictated by its success running the ball. Considering Boston College boasts the nation’s No. 7 rush defense, offensive coordinator Walt Bell better have something left in his bag of tricks. — Josh Moyer
Our Pick: BC tops Maryland 34-21
Camping World Independence Bowl: NC State (6-6) vs Vanderbilt (6-6)
The ACC-SEC rivalry stretches into the postseason with NC State facing Vanderbilt in the Camping World Independence Bowl on Dec. 26 in Shreveport, Louisiana. This is the third straight bowl game for the Wolfpack, while Vandy is back in a bowl for the first time since 2013.
How NC State beats you: NC State isn’t flashy, but does the little things well. The Wolfpack are good in the trenches on both sides of the ball, particularly on the defensive line, where Bradley Chubb and B.J. Hill are among the country’s best. They run the ball effectively with Matt Dayes, and they utilize dynamic weapons like Jaylen Samuels to find mismatches. NC State doesn’t beat itself, and though it hasn’t done enough to finish off some of its top-tier opponents, it’s shown its fundamentally sound style can match up with the best in the ACC and beyond.
How Vanderbilt beats you: Though Vanderbilt’s offense came alive late in the season, the heart of this team is on defense. That’s coach Derek Mason’s bread and butter, and it’s an aggressive unit that can frustrate any offense. The Commodores don’t force a lot of turnovers (18) and they don’t exactly get to the quarterback all that often, but this unit has a solid bend-don’t-break mindset that helped it have the nation’s best red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score inside the 20 only 65.9 percent of the time.
Our Pick: NC State tops Vandy 25-17
Tuesday, December 27th
Military Bowl: #24 Temple (10-3) vs Wake Forest (6-6)
Temple looks to cruise in this one, topping the Demon Deacons with ease to end their 2016 campaign.
Our Pick: Temple tops the Deacs easy 41-16
Wednesday, December 28th
Pinstripe Bowl: #23 Pitt (8-4) vs Northwestern (6-6)
Two defensive-minded head coaches with high-scoring offenses at their disposal will watch their teams clash in the cold at Yankee Stadium later this month.
Pitt‘s Pat Narduzzi and Northwestern‘s Pat Fitzgerald are in many ways cut from the same cloth. This year they have teams that aren’t too different, either. With a couple of weeks to go before the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, we take a look at how the two programs stack up heading into the postseason.
How to beat Pitt: When a defense ranks 127th in pass defense (note: there are 128 FBS teams), that provides a fine starting point for opposing coaches as they begin to devise a game plan. The Panthers were about as poor as it gets defending the pass, ranking 106th in yards per attempt and dead last in completions of at least 20 yards. The Panthers’ offense finished 10th in scoring, so opponents have to keep pace with an assault on the Pitt secondary. Stopping the Pitt offense begins with slowing down the rushing attack.
How to beat Northwestern: Get after the quarterback on defense and slow the game down on offense. The teams that have defeated the Wildcats this season haven’t needed a ton of points to do it (All of them did it with fewer than 30). Keeping sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson from getting comfortable makes it difficult for the Northwestern offense to feed its two stars, running back Justin Jackson and wide receiver Austin Carr. The shorter an opponent can make the game by grinding out long drives with the ball, the better off it will be.
Our Pick: Pitt rolls to a 41-14 win
Russell Athletic Bowl: #16 West Virginia (10-2) vs Miami (8-4)
Old Big East rivals Miami and No. 16 West Virginia meet for the first time since 2003 in the Russell Athletic Bowl Dec. 28 (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, in the lone Big 12-ACC matchup of this bowl season. Here’s a quick look at what to expect.
How West Virginia beats you: The Mountaineers pummel their opponents. On both sides of the ball. This is not Big 12 football as you saw it in the states of Oklahoma and Texas. West Virginia plays real defense, leading the conference in defensive QBR and yards per opponent pass attempt. Rasul Douglas is an All-America-caliber cornerback. And offensively, WVU ran for 240 yards per game, with four backs — including a pair of true freshman — who topped 100 yards on the ground in games. QB Skyler Howard plays like a running back, too, behind star center Tyler Orlosky and a solid offensive line.
How Miami beats you: Brad Kaaya developed quite a rapport with freshman receiver Ahmmon Richards (46 catches, 866 yards, 2 TDs) and tight end David Njoku (38 catches, 654 yards, 7 TDs) at the end of the season, and Mark Waltonhas rushed for more than 1,000 yards, so the Hurricanes are able to win in multiple ways. But the defense has been the overlooked and underrated story of the season. With Manny Diaz using a more aggressive scheme, the Hurricanes rank in the top 25 nationally in sacks (2.75/game) and tackles for loss (sixth, 8.3 per game) and are also tied for No. 13 in scoring defense (18.9 points per game). Corn Elder is one of the best cornerbacks in the ACC and has the ability to take away a team’s top receiver, while freshmen Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are future stars at linebacker.
Our Pick: West Virginia wins a close one 31-27
Thursday, December 29th
Belk Bowl: Arkansas (7-5) vs #22 Virginia Tech (9-4)
This year’s Belk Bowl features a Virginia Tech team that will be playing in its 24th consecutive bowl game, the second-longest active streak in college football, and an Arkansas team that has dominated both Texas and Kansas State in bowl games the past two seasons.
It’s the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
How Arkansas beats you: By controlling the clock. The Razorbacks led the SEC in time of possession, averaging more than 35 minutes per game, and they’re at their best when running the ball, moving the chains and keeping their defense off the field. It’s old-school football at its core, and the key has been running back Rawleigh Williams III. The 5-foot-10, 223-pound sophomore broke his neck in a game last season but returned this season and currently leads the SEC with 1,326 yards rushing. He also has 12 rushing touchdowns.
How Virginia Tech beats you: With quarterback Jerod Evans. He was overshadowed in a league that had the top two Heisman finishers at QB but Evans was terrific this season, racking up more than 4,000 total yards to go with 37 touchdowns. As a passer, Evans made the most of a solid contingent of weapons downfield in Bucky Hodges, Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips. As a runner, he’s tough to bring down and is just as capable of going through tackles as evading them. He’s the engine that makes Virginia Tech’s offense go.
Our Pick: VaTech wins 38-24
Friday, December 30th
Hyundai Sun Bowl: #18 Stanford (9-3) vs North Carolina (8-4)
It will be Pac-12 vs. ACC at the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Here’s what to watch for:
How Stanford beats you: When the Cardinal win up front, they’re essentially automatic victors. Stanford has surpassed 200 rushing yards in each of its five consecutive wins, cracking the 350-yard barrier in three of those contests. When defenses become helplessly overcommitted to stopping the run, quarterback Keller Chryst has shown the ability to make them pay over the past three games. The fact that North Carolina is allowing 236 rushing yards per game — No. 113 in the nation — doesn’t bode well for the Tar Heels.
How North Carolina beats you: An explosive offense led by one of the most efficient QBs in the country makes North Carolina extremely dangerous. The bowl game could be an NFL springboard for Ryan Switzer or Elijah Hood, but QB Mitch Trubisky, in particular, will be playing on a big stage. He could potentially be the top pick in the NFL draft, and after a season in which he threw for nearly 3,500 yards, completed 69 percent of his throws and had 28 touchdowns to just four interceptions, he’ll be the focal point of the Tar Heels’ offense.
Our Pick: UNC rallies for a 28-24 win
Capital One Orange Bowl: #6 Michigan (10-2) vs #11 Florida State (9-3)
Sixth-ranked Michigan travels south to face a three-loss team from the Sunshine State in bowl season for the second straight year. Last year, the Wolverines easily handled a Gators team that floundered down the home stretch. This time around they head to Miami to face No. 11 Florida State, a team that seems to have hit its stride on both sides of the field in November.
Let’s take a closer look at how these two teams stack up heading into their Orange Bowl showdown.
How Florida State beats you: Offensively it starts with Cook, who was probably college football’s best running back this season, accumulating 1,620 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns. The offensive line is playing better, too, providing Cook big holes and quarterback Deondre Francois with time when he drops back. Defensively, the Seminoles batter opponents with their defensive line. Get into obvious passing situations, and DeMarcus Walker, tied for the national lead with 15 sacks, and Brian Burns, who leads all freshman nationally with 9.5 sacks, will find a way to harass the quarterback. If the quarterback does get the pass off, the errant throw caused by pressure could land in the hands of McFadden, whose eight interceptions is tied for first nationally.
How Michigan beats you: A healthy Wilton Speight at quarterback should help the Wolverines get back to the more creative play-calling that slipped away during the last few weeks of the season. Their defense was better than anyone else in the country at getting off the field on the third downs, which means Michigan can put you in a hole in a hurry. A stifling pass defense makes it hard to try to mount any type of a comeback if an opponent falls behind by more than a score in the second half.
Our Pick: FSU rallies for a 38-35 win
Saturday, December 31st
Taxslayer Bowl: Georgia Tech (8-4) vs Kentucky (7-5)
Georgia Tech and Kentucky are happy to be back in a bowl game this season. Both missed the postseason a year ago, and for the Wildcats, it’s their first bowl appearance since 2010. Here’s an early look at what to expect when the two sides meet on New Year’s Eve (11 a.m. ET, ESPN).
How Georgia Tech beats you: Of course the Yellow Jackets (8-4) like to run, run and run some more, as the triple-option attack led the ACC in rushing and was 10th nationally. But with three-year starting quarterback Justin Thomasunder center, you can’t completely sleep on the passing game. Thomas threw for 164 yards in leading Tech back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit at rival Georgia in the regular-season finale. He worked similar magic late in the season opener in Dublin to beat Boston College on a late drive, too. That said, you need to control the trenches, or else your defense will get gassed and your offense risks getting out of sync with so few possessions.
How Kentucky beats you: The offense might look a little different than Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack, but the basic premise remains the same — Kentucky is at its best running the football. The Wildcats (7-5) finished third in rushing in the SEC this season, averaging 241 yards per game, and they are the only team in the conference to have two different players go over 1,000 yards on the season. Stanley Williams led Kentucky a year ago with 855 yards on the ground, but true freshman Benny Snell, who has 1,057 yards and a team-best 13 touchdowns, has been one of the SEC’s breakout stars in 2016.
Our Pick: GaTech wins easy 38-10
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: #20 LSU (7-4) vs #13 Louisville (9-3)
The ACC and SEC fans who tailgate ahead of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl had better be early risers. The game will kick off at 11 a.m. ET at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium and air on ABC.
How Louisville beats you: It all starts with Jackson, who racked up nearly 5,000 yards of total offense in 12 games and an ACC-record 51 touchdowns. When he and his teammates are in sync, they are among the best offenses in the country. Jackson makes video game moves with his legs and has the arm to wing the ball 90 yards down the field. If he gets loose, watch out. Defensively, the Cards are at their best when they apply good pressure to the quarterback and limit the big plays. They did not do either well in their final two games, and that ended up hurting them in both losses. — Adelson
How LSU beats you: When LSU’s defense gets opponents off schedule early in possessions, that’s when defensive coordinator Dave Aranda can use his dynamic edge rushers and blitzes from unexpected locations to create sacks and pressures, followed by punts and the occasional turnover. Up until the Tigers fell flat in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M, they had not surrendered more than two touchdowns in any game this season. Even after giving up six in that 54-39 win, they still allowed just 16 offensive touchdowns all season — a total bettered by only Alabama (14) and Ohio State (15). Aranda’s D hasn’t faced an opponent with the firepower that Louisville boasts, however, and the Tigers will have to play the bowl game without arguably their most important defensive player, injured senior linebacker Kendell Beckwith. — Ching
Our Pick: Louisville wins 28-24
Playstation Fiesta Bowl: #3 Ohio State (11-1) vs #2 Clemson (12-1)
The stakes don’t get much higher, and two programs that are plenty comfortable with the big stage are obviously well aware with what’s on the line in the desert in the College Football Playoff. As the semifinal showdown draws closer, here’s an early look at both the Clemson Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes ahead of the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
How Clemson beats you: In the trenches. Sure, it’s the skill position guys who get all the hype. That makes sense with Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams & Co. putting up big numbers. But it’s the big guys at the line of scrimmage who make the difference. On offense, if the line can open up running lanes, Clemson’s offense is virtually unstoppable, and when Watson has time to look downfield, the big-play threats are numerous. On defense, the line is as good as any in football, led by Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Carlos Watkins. Ohio State’s ground game is its bread and butter, but the Tigers have a knack for blowing up plays in the backfield.
How Ohio State beats you: As cutting edge as his program might be, in many ways Urban Meyer uses a throwback approach to get the job done on the field. The Buckeyes have one of the nation’s most prolific rushing attacks and they lean on a suffocating defense, a vintage Big Ten approach if there ever was one. Of course, the power-spread playbook featuring Ohio State’s three-headed rushing attack and the way it unleashes a versatile, dynamic group of defenders to generate turnovers certainly provides an update to the old-school model. But establishing the run on offense and stuffing it on defense is a tried-and-true blueprint for the Buckeyes.
Our Pick: Clemson wins 41-31
Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: #4 Washington (12-1) vs #1 Alabama (13-0)
Yes, this isn’t a slate of ACC games but we thought we’d pick the “other” semi-final playoff game as well just for kicks.
Our Pick: Bama rolls big 48-27
Monday, January 6th
National Championship: Clemson vs Alabama
A rematch of last year’s National Championship game and while many may call us a “homer” for this pick we’re going with a conference foe to claim the title and knock the SEC off their throne.
Our Pick: Clemson tops Bama 38-30
Last Week: 1-0 (100%)
Overall Record: 81-32 (71.681%)
Don’t forget to sign-up for our Bowl Mania Challenge, sponsored by ESPN and Capital One. Top entry at the end of the bowl season will get a cash prize! You can have up to two (2) entries but you must have your picks in before the first game starts to lock your entry.
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It’s the Sights of the Game, presented by Black Hills Regional Eye Institute.