2019 ACC Bowls Preview

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2019 ACC Bowls
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 07: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers reacts after a touchdown against the Virginia Cavaliers during the ACC Football Championship game at Bank of America Stadium on December 07, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It is the most wonderful time of the year! It’s time for the College Football bowl season! There are 40 bowl games (plus the National Championship game) to look forward to. In this series, I will be looking at all 80 teams who qualified for the postseason and breaking down their matchups. Each installment will focus on teams from a respective conference. This year, two teams will be making their bowl debut, one bowl-eligible team was left home, and there are 14 instances where the teams are facing for the first time in history! Let’s take a look at the 2019 ACC Bowls. 

2019 ACC Bowls Preview 

Walk-On’s Independence Bowl 
Miami (FL) vs Louisiana Tech 

The first bowl of the 2019 AAC bowls schedule is the Independence Bowl between Miami (FL) and Louisiana Tech. “The U” finished this season a sub-par 6-6 (5-6 against FBS-level opponents). A testament to how down the ACC was this year, Miami was still within contention of winning the Coastal division all season and even beat the team that won it. As usual, there is plenty of talent on this Hurricanes team. They just could not get it done when needed. 

Miami (FL) played many quarterbacks, but none more than redshirt freshman Jarren Williams. Williams accounted for 2,093 passing yards and 19 touchdowns. Their dual-threat option is Tate Martell. Martell, the sophomore transfer from Ohio State took time away from the program only to rejoin recently. It will be interesting to see if he is willing to battle or help Williams or if he will jump ship again. Deejay Dallas was the leading rusher, but he has been sidelined due to injury. Look for sophomore Cam’ron Harris to return from his own injury and build upon his totals of 545 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Out wide, the favorite target has been the Buffalo transfer, redshirt senior KJ Osborn. Don’t let the fact that he only has 491 yards and five touchdowns fool you. He can play and he will want to show out for his final collegiate contest. 

At 20.8 points allowed per game, the Hurricanes defense is 2nd in the ACC and 25th nationally. On five occasions, opponents could not muster more than 15 points. When the offense is as inept as Miami’s, you have to have a good defense. Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau has emerged as a leader and stud for this side of the ball. His 18 tackles for loss and 14 sacks are good for best in the ACC. That is saying something, considering who else resides in this conference. Louisiana Tech will make Miami (FL) sweat, but I think the sheer talent disparity will be the difference. Despite an ugly season, the Hurricanes will finish the season with a win and extend their 4-0 all-time lead. 

Quick Lane Bowl 
Pitt vs Eastern Michigan 

Up next in the Quick Lane Bowl is the Pitt Panthers as they take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles. At 7-5 and 4-4 in the ACC, Pitt was impressively average overall. They nearly took down Penn State, however, and then beat UCF at home. There have been quite a few decent pros to come from Pitt despite never actually winning anything. Could there be more diamonds on this squad? 

From the team that had a kicker with the last name of Blewitt, Pitt fields a quarterback with the name of Kenny Pickett. The junior quarterback threw for 2,737 yards this year and scored only 10 touchdowns. AJ Davis, junior running back, went for 532 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He was also the team’s third-most targeted receiver. All in all, Pitt’s offense was anemic at best. At 20 points per game, the Panthers were the 115th-ranked offense in the nation.   

This game will be a battle of defenses. Interestingly enough, the Pitt defense leads the ACC in sacks with 49 in total. Their 21.8 points and 305.2 yards allowed per game are good for 2nd in the conference. If you know who number one is, that’s an impressive stat. I love seeing MAC teams succeed, but I said before that I will roll with the Panthers in this pillow fight. Pitt has faced and dealt with better offenses than Eastern Michigan, so this should be the deciding factor. 

Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman 
North Carolina vs Temple 

This year’s Military Bowl features North Carolina and Temple. The Tar Heels stumbled through a 6-6 campaign. It is always considered a success, however, when you beat your rival, so UNC has at least some positive feeling about this year. The Tar Heels do own the distinction of almost beating the reigning champions. Unfortunately, almost winning is still a loss. 

The quarterback who passed for the most yards in the ACC is a North Carolina Tar Heel: freshman Sam Howell. 3,347 yards and 35 touchdowns later and Howell is off to a very promising start to his collegiate career. What you don’t see often is freshman quarterbacks making the jump to the college ranks, throw as much as he did, and only have seven interceptions. Barring anything crazy, I think it’s fair to expect a solid career from Howell. Leading rusher, Michael Carter, ran for 919 yards, but only three touchdowns. He does split time with sophomore Javonte Williams who accounted for 848 yards and five touchdowns. Give Howell a more competent running game and you might be onto something. 

What if I told you that a former quarterback leads the ACC in total tackles? Well, Chazz Surratt is a quarterback-turned-linebacker that has been in on 110 tackles. The Tar Heels defense isn’t too bad, but it’s not great. Outside of holding the best team on their schedule to 21 points, UNC was pretty average. The time-tested strategy employed by the ACC and SEC of playing an FCS team the week before their big rivalry helped the Tar Heels’ averages. If the team that played to a 21-20 loss shows up, North Carolina will win. If any other team shows up (as I expect), the Owls will take it. Unfortunately for the conference, this’ll be the first loss of the 2019 ACC bowls schedule. This matchup marks the first time the two have played. 

New Era Pinstripe Bowl 
Wake Forest vs Michigan State 

Head coach Dave Clawson leads his Wake Forest team into the Pinstripe Bowl against Michigan State. The 8-4 Demon Deacons experienced success early but faltered off towards the end. Wake started out 5-0 and ranked as high as 19, but ended up losing three of their final four games. A truly unfortunate end to a once-promising season. 

The Clawson offense implemented at Wake Forest is built to be balanced between passing attempts and rushing attempts. Quarterback Jamie Newman is dealing with a leg injury, so it is unclear if he is able to go in this one. He accounted for 2,693 yards through the air and 487 yards on the ground en route to 29 total touchdowns. The number one passing attack in the ACC has a pair of receivers leading the way. Their leader is Sage Surratt, but his 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns will be missed as he is out for the year due to a shoulder injury. Next man up is quarterback-turned-receiver Kendall Hinton. Hilton helped the cause by going for 953 yards and three touchdowns. Look for him to establish himself early against a very solid Spartan defense. 

Where Wake Forest will want to improve leading up to the game is their defense. They allow more than 400 yards per game. Even an offense that is as bad as Michigan State’s may be able to get something going against the team that gives up almost 30 points per game. Usually, when a bad offense meets a bad defense, the offense wins. I’m not convinced in this case. I think that Wake will take the first-ever matchup between the two programs. 

CFP Semifinal at the Playstation Fiesta Bowl 
Clemson vs Ohio State 

Statistically, the CFP semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl is the most even of the 2019 ACC bowls slate. For the fourth time in their storied histories, 3rd ranked Clemson will face off against 2nd ranked Ohio State. The defending National Champs come into this game with the nation’s best 28-game winning streak. OSU has the 2nd-best at 19 in a row. No matter your fandom, this game should be a classic, unlike their 2016 matchup. 

Of all of the offenses in the CFP, Clemson’s ranks fourth. That’s not saying much considering who else is participating. This offense is a “pick your poison” kind of unit. Between Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Justyn Ross, and Tee Higgins, the tigers have been able to tell defenses what they were running and could still score. In terms of efficiency, completion percentage, yards per play, and sheer common sense, Lawrence is the best quarterback in the ACC. He took a step back (if you want to say that) in terms of yards (3,172 vs 3,280) and interceptions (eight in 2019 compared to four in 2018). No matter the metric, the sophomore is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. Etienne has been nothing short of the truth during his three years at Clemson. Ross and Higgins will certainly test the Buckeyes’ secondary. NFL talent vs NFL talent right here. 

So, Clemson’s defense is elite. The most they allowed was 20. Outside of that, the most allowed was 17. Junior linebacker Isaiah Simmons and his 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks are a problem. Despite the fact that this unit lost a massive amount of talent to the NFL, they came back and only became the number one defense in the nation. Let’s be real: neither team has played a team as good as the other. However, this will be the first test Clemson will face from a team with a pulse. It will be close. It will be a great game. But I think that Ohio State will upset Clemson here. This, to me, is the defacto National Championship game. Of all of the 2019 ACC bowls, this will be the most exciting.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl 
Louisville vs Mississippi State 

The Music City Bowl this year will feature and an ACC-SEC matchup in Louisville and Mississippi State. Louisville has not been able to return to the greatness that Lamar Jackson brought them, but they were decent this year. They did struggle against the better teams on their schedule, but thanks to the fact that the ACC is a Group of 5 conference outside of Clemson, they finished 5-3 in the conference. 

The number three rushing offense (and number five overall) belongs to the Cardinals. Redshirt freshman phenom Javian Hawkins exploded onto the scene with 1,420 yards and eight touchdowns. Hawkins went for 129 yards and a score against the top defense in the ACC. He finished the season with 375 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the last two games. Sophomore quarterback Malik Cunningham has benefited from Hawkins’ studly season. Cunningham only threw for 1,782 yards, but he had 20 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. If there is going to be a team to knock off Clemson in the future, it will probably be led by this offense. 

If Louisville wants to even the all-time record with Mississippi State at 3-3, they will need their defense to step up. The 111th-ranked scoring defense allowed at least 34 points on eight occasions. Considering the offense surpassed 30 six times, this is not a recipe for success. If the Cardinals’ defense can find a way to stop giving up nearly 450 yards per game, they could compete. Overall, I think that Louisville will be able to find a way to win this matchup. The Cardinals are quite good on offense, so that will propel them past the Bulldogs. 

Capital One Orange Bowl 
Virginia vs Florida 

Another head-scratcher bowl is the New Year’s Six game, the Orange Bowl between Virginia and Florida. The 9-4 Cavaliers experienced a 4-0 start, 1-3 run, then finished on another 4-0 run before getting walloped by Clemson in the title game. In the end, Virginia did what they had to do to win their division. 6-2 may not be the world’s greatest record in conference, but it gave them the opportunity to upend the champs. 

The biggest threat on this offense is senior Arizona State transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins. In his second season at the helm, Perkins threw for 3,215 yards and 18 touchdowns. The offense runs through the dual-threat athlete. In addition to his arm, his legs went for a team-best 745 yards and 11 touchdowns. Perkins’ partner in crime is the sophomore running back Wayne TaulapapaTaulapapa scored 12 times off of 459 yards. These two athletes are going to pave the way for the Cavaliers in this game, but they will be up against a stingy defense. 

The defense started out the year well. In their first seven games, opponents managed 19.7 points. In their subsequent five matchups, they surrendered 28.8 points per game. The cherry on top was the 62 they allowed in the title game. Honestly, Florida is not a great team either, but I have to side with the Gators in this game. It will be an interesting matchup, but I’m not entirely sure the rationale behind the selection for this game. Florida is already 1-0 against Virginia, so it should go similarly here. 

Tony The Tiger Sun Bowl 
Florida State vs Arizona State 

The Sun Bowl will allow both Florida State and Arizona State to finish their relatively disappointing seasons on a strong note. 6-6 is a sub-par record at Florida State. Despite the fact that the Seminoles are only a few years removed from a CFP appearance, they have not experienced any success. Recruiting class after recruiting class continue to be fairly highly-rated, but there must be a coaching deficiency. Obviously, I was not the only one who thought this, considering FSU moved on from Willie Taggart midseason. 

NFL-bound junior running back Cam Akers was the workhorse for this offense. His 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns will certainly be missed in this game, considering Akers is sitting out the contest to prepare for the draft. Suspended sophomore Khalan Laborn should return for this game, but there is quite the drop off from Akers. His 297 yards and four scores pale in comparison, so they will have to rely on the arm of quarterback James Blackman. In his 11 contests, Blackman threw for 2,095 yards and 16 touchdowns. It’s going to be difficult to move the ball against a strong Sun Devils defense. 

Where ASU should find success, despite the absence of Brandon Aiyuk, will be throwing the football. This FSU defense gave up an average of 283 yards each game and only 152 yards on the ground. Opponents scored at least 31 points six times. In a conference like the ACC, this is not ideal. All things considered; Arizona State will be able to win this matchup. Even with Akers, I would assume the Seminoles would fall, so I think that the PAC 12 foe will go against the 2019 ACC bowls record. The Seminoles, however, will retain the all-time record after this loss, 3-2. 

Belk Bowl 
Virginia Tech vs Kentucky 

Virginia Tech and Kentucky are to square off in this year’s Belk Bowl. Outside of their loss to their rival Virginia, the Hokies lost to lesser competition, yet upset their fair share. Notre Dame was a point away from falling, while Wake Forest, UNC, and Miami (FL) fell. Coach Justin Fuentes’ squad is 6-11-2 all-time against their SEC foe. The penultimate match of the 2019 ACC bowls should actually be a good one.

The season began with Kentucky transfer quarterback, Ryan Willis. After a few games, the Hokies made the switch to sophomore Hendon Hooker. Hooker, in nine contests, threw for 1,145 yards and ran for an additional 306. In all, 16 touchdowns were credited to him. If he had been the quarterback for the entirety of the season, perhaps VT could have stolen a win or two. Fifth-year junior Deshawn McClease is the leading rusher for Virginia Tech. His 717 yards and six touchdowns certainly made life easier for the quarterbacks. Overall, there were many playmakers for this offense both running and receiving the ball. Unfortunately, none were able to break away from the pack. 

The final two Hokies victories came thanks to a pair of shutouts by this defense. The Hokie defense is not elite by any means, but they do have solid defenders in Rayshard Ashby and Jermain Waller. Ashby has been a force for the Hokies and accounted for 14.5 tackles for loss and four and a half sacks this year. Waller, as well as Caleb Farley, are elite defensive backs, forcing a combined seven interceptions and 22 passes defended. Three athletes a defense does not make, however. I’ll be siding with Kentucky in this matchup. Upon research, I am believing that this game will be a little closer than the faithful of each program thinks.  

Ticketsmarter Birmingham Bowl 
Boston College vs Cincinnati 

The Birmingham Bowl will pit a grateful Boston College team against a disrespected Cincinnati team. BC went 6-6 this year, but those losses include a loss to Kansas. Kansas! Against bowl-eligible teams, the Eagles went 2-5. They beat Rutgers, so at least they aren’t the worst Power 5 team out there. 

On offense, there is an unquestioned leader: AJ Dillon. Unfortunately for BC, they will be without the 1,685 yards and 14 scores in this matchup with a good defense as Dillon will be sitting this one out to ready himself for the draft. Next man up is sophomore, David Bailey. He’s no Dillon, but his 811 yards and seven touchdowns are respectable. An injury struck down starting quarterback Anthony Brown, so Dennis Grosel will lead the charge. The sophomore will have issues adding to his 896 passing yards and nine scores, but the Eagles will need a good game from him here. 

The 96th-ranked scoring defense was not great, naturally. When they were good, they were average. When they were bad, it got ugly. Five times, opponents scored at least 38 points. Three times, opponents couldn’t muster 20 points. Either way, Cincinnati is good and BC is not. They lost to Kansas. I’ll take the Bearcats in this one and I’m not convinced it’ll be close. It’ll be this way that the 2019 ACC bowls docket whimpers to an end.

2019 ACC Bowls Results 

Clemson is certainly an elite force. Outside of them, the ACC and AAC could be interchangeable. When it all settles, the 2019 ACC bowls mark will be a mediocre 4-6. Miami (FL) and Pitt should be able to improve upon their 19-21 and 13-21 respective records, but North Carolina’s record will fall to 14-20. Under the radar, Wake Forest has the 4th-best bowl record at 9-4, while Clemson is sitting at 24-20. The Cardinals’ record will rise to an even 11-11-1 all-time after winning their matchup. Virginia has a less-than-ideal 8-12 mark, but Florida State has an impressive 27-16-2 record all-time. Virginia Tech, however, should fall to 13-20 and Boston College to 14-13. 

Only three conferences remain! Up next, the Big XII! 

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