Given there was just one ACC football game over the weekend, doing the traditional power rankings seemed like an even more fruitless endeavor than usual. Instead, we’re ranking the bowl matchups. Let’s be honest, you’ll probably still watch them all. But let’s see which games are appointment TV, and which are good background noise as you drift into a nap fueled by eggnog and Christmas wine. I also have an early Christmas gift for you loyal readers: these rankings are Notre Dame free!
#1 Playstation Fiesta Bowl: #2 Ohio State vs #3 Clemson. 12/28. 8:00 PM. ESPN
Clearly this one is the best of the bunch anyway you slice it. In case you forgot, Clemson is 3-0 all time against Ohio State in football (and 2-0 in basketball, btw), with all three producing memorable results. It began in the 1978 Gator Bowl when Clemson DT Charlie Bauman intercepted an Ohio State pass to clinch a 17-15 Tiger win, and after being tackled near the sideline, legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes reared back and punched Bauman in the neck. Hayes was fired the next day and a tradition of Ohio State being mad at Clemson was born. The next meeting would be in January 2014 as the 10-2 Tigers met the Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl. Clemson emerged with a 40-35 win in a game that saw then ESPN announcer Jon Gruden drooling over the Clemson stable of recievers, including Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. The postgame celebration was also notable as Dabo proudly declared Clemson was the first team from South Carolina to win a BCS bowl, a fact and a dig at Steve Spurrier, as this was in the height of the Dabo-Spurrier feud.
The last matchup may have been most memorable, as the 2016 Clemson Tigers blanked Ohio State 31-0 to win the first Fiesta Bowl title in Clemson history and send Clemson to the national championship in Tampa where they would defeat Alabama. It also gave us this pure moment of Dabo being Dabo.
As you will read on this site over the next three weeks, the Buckeyes bring a challenge this year. Led by former UGA backup Quarterback/ fake punt upback Justin Fields and cyborg defensive end Chase Young, Ohio State has at times looked like possibly the best team in the nation at various points. Don’t worry about Fields former team, though. The Dawgs have done some outstanding things this year like checks notes losing to South Carolina’s third string QB and having a scoreless first half against Kentucky. Ohio State is, however, coming off an underwhelming Big Ten championship win where they rallied to defeat Wisconsin 34-21, which is part of the reason they were bumped from #1 to #2. This game should be a fun one as Fields and Trevor battle it out, along with Ohio native Jackson Carman being tasked with the job of blocking Chase Young.
Watchability: Duh! This is a great one.
*#2 Capital One Orange Bowl: #24 Virginia vs #9 Florida. 12/30. 8:00. ESPN
I can honestly say UVA is the best football team to ever lose sixty-something to seventeen against Clemson. One of my hopes for bowl season was that the Cavs would draw either Georgia or Bama because Bryce Perkins facing off against an unmotivated Georgia or Bama squad who had playoff aspirations could spell upset. Not to say Virginia can’t pull it off against Florida, but given UF’s recent history, I think the Gators will be more enthusiastic about being in the Orange Bowl instead of looking at it like a consolation prize. Also, you have to imagine it’ll feel very much like a Florida home game at Sun Life Stadium. That being said, you definitely shouldn’t sleep on Virginia and I imagine they’ll at least stick around long enough to make the Gators sweat.
Watchability: Definitely worth tuning into, but don’t be shocked if it gets lopsided by the fourth
#3 New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Michigan State vs Wake Forest. 12/27. 3:20. ESPN
This is a bit disappointing considering at one point Wake seemed to be bound for an Orange Bowl berth as the ACC’s second best team, but instead will be playing in the Bronx in a bowl game that has featured literal frozen tundra in past years. Wake Forest still is a good team, although a bit hampered by injuries. When Michigan State plays you should often expect the unexpected, not to mention they’ll be much more accustomed to the frigid conditions.
Watchability: If nothing else seeing players slip and slide around a froze baseball field will be fun. Plus it you have to work that Friday it can give you a distraction.
#4 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville vs Mississippi State. 12/30. 4:00. ESPN
Year one for Scott Satterfield went so much better than expected, and Mississippi State provides a perfect opponent in the sense. Louisville is is on the rise and earning win number 8 vs an SEC team is great for boosting morale for the future, somewhat similar to Clemson beating Kentucky in the 2009 Music City Bowl in Dabo’s first full season, giving us a nice little shot in the arm after a season that had so many up’s and downs. Let’s also never forget that the only reason Miss State is bowl eligible is because an Ole Miss player chose to pretend to be a peeing dog in the Miss State endzone, which alone is enough reason to watch.
Watchability: If you can handle all the clanga it’ll be fine.
#5 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl: Florida State vs Arizona State. 12/31. 2:00. CBS
This is the bowl game I didn’t know I needed. It’s got us talkin bout the Noles and considering Arizona State (Shutdown Fullcast listeners will get that). Also, why is the bowl sponsored by the Frosted Flakes’ mascot instead of Frosted Flakes? Did Tony the Tiger raise this money independently of Kelloggs and decided he wanted his own bowl? Wouldn’t the Frosted Flakes Bowl make more sense since they go in a bowl? So many questions. Also, I really, really, really hope that FSU and ASU fans make the trek to El Paso because while these football teams aren’t the best, these two fanbases can party with the best of them, and them all taking over El Paso to rage for New Year’s Eve sounds absolutely amazing. It will also be nice to watch Herm Edwards lead the Sun Devils in a game that’s not after 10 PM EST or on Pac 12 network, which maybe seven people get. You’ll also have FSU wanting to send interim coach Odell Haggins out with a win.
Watchability: I don’t know if this game will be “good,” but it will certainly have some entertaining moments.
#6 Belk Bowl: Kentucky vs Virginia Tech. 12/31. 12:00. ESPN
I saw a weirdly noticeable amount of Virginia Tech fans around Charlotte for the ACC Championship this weekend, but considering there’s a solid Hokie contingent in North Carolina and they love football, it makes sense that many would still come out for the festivities. Based on that, should be a good crowd in the final Belk Bowl, as the game will have a new sponsor next year. Kentucky took a step back from last year but finished nicely with a win over Louisville. Virginia Tech is looking to wash the bad taste of losing to Virginia out of their mouth.
Watchability: VT should cruise, but it’s bowl season so it may get weird, so keep an eye out at least.
#7 Ticketsmarter Birmingham Bowl: Boston College vs #21 Cincinnati. 1/2. 3:00. ESPN
Cincinati is a pretty solid team, meanwhile Boston College will probably be led by a lameduck interim before they hire a replacement for Steve Addazio. Not expecting much out of the Eagles, but hopefully they get to actually play the game this year, as their bowl game last season was canceled.
Watchability: At this point you may have gotten your fill of games, so noone will judge you if you don’t watch.
#8 Military Bowl Presented by Northrup Grumman: North Carolina vs Temple. 12/27. 12:00. ESPN
Temple beat an ACC team (Georgia Tech) and put together another solid 8-win season. They’re among the AAC teams that always puts together a solid squad. They’ll present a real challenge for an up-and-coming UNC squad. North Carolina’s been very hot and cold this year, so who knows what you’ll get, but a win would give them momentum going into the offseason.
Watchability: It’s football. If you’ve got other stuff to do then, yeah, do that.
#9 Walkon’s Independence Bowl: Miami vs Louisiana Tech. 12/26. 4:00. ESPN
The Canes will swagger their way to Shreveport for a matchup with the La Tech Bulldogs out of C-USA. Ruston, Louisiana is a bit over an hour to Shreveport, and while the Canes aren’t the Canes of old, Miami still is enough of a name brand in football that Tech fans would be thrilled to knock them off. Expect a pro Louisiana Tech crowd. It’s one of those games that I feel like Miami’s talent will eventually take over for the win, but if year one of the Manny Diaz era goes 6-7 with losses to FIU and La Tech, then Canes fans will get very restless.
Watchability: tune in for a potential upset, but don’t expect much.
#10 Quick Lane Bowl: Eastern Michigan vs Pitt. 12/26. 8:00. ESPN.
At one point Pitt was a Coastal contender, but are now staring at a matchup with the team at the bottom of the MAC West in Detroit. Somehow EMU (yeah, their initials are EMU but they choose to be called the Eagles instead of the Emus because...reasons) got a bowl bid over Toledo, who had the exact same record as EMU and defeated the Eagles in overtime back in October.
Watchability: again, it’s a football game. Really not much else I can say.