Following Virginia Tech's 23-20 loss to Michigan in last night's Sugar Bowl, the ACC dropped to 2-5 in its bowl games this season, tied for the worst mark among the top six conferences. Only the Pac-12 has matched the ACC's bowl record of futility this season, and should Clemson lose tonight, the ACC would be assured the worst bowl record of the BCS AQ conferences at just 2-6.
The only ACC teams to win their bowl games are Florida State (narrowly edging Notre Dame 18-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl) and N.C. State (a 31-24 winner over Louisville in the Belk Bowl). North Carolina was pasted by Missouri and Virginia by Auburn. Wake Forest lost by six to Mississippi State, while the Techs both lost in OT.
But as the pundits and talking heads start piling it on the ACC -- which, to be fair, has done nothing to improve its football reputation nationally this bowl season -- you can't say we didn't warn you ...
"Looking at the actual ACC bowl matchups and what could have been if VT didn't make the BCS, early take on how the conference will fare in the postseason? In other words, when talking heads start piling it on the conference for a poor bowl record, could this have been avoided if the ACC didn't get a second team into the BCS and teams were selected based more on the on-field results?"
This has been going on for quite a few years now, with ACC programs jumping other programs in the bowl pecking order based on sterling travel reputations and the promise of strong ticket sales, hotel sales and paying for items with $2 bills stamped with Tiger paws.
After the Hokies received a rather generous BCS at-large berth to the Sugar Bowl opposite Michigan, this situation was somewhat unavoidable this year. Virginia, not Virginia Tech, was picked for the Peach Bowl, Florida State for the Champs Sports Bowl, and so on down the line. But ACC fans bemoaning the conference's current 2-5 record in bowl games can be left to second-guess what could have been had the Sugar not snared Virginia Tech.
Conventional wisdom going into this bowl season was that Virginia would be overmatched by Auburn in the Peach Bowl. I mean, how many confidence points did you load up on in this year's Peach Bowl, right? But what if the Hokies, and not the Cavaliers, had faced Auburn in Atlanta? Could the ACC have turned a L into a W? Doesn't seem all that far-fetched, considering Virginia Tech waxed that very same Virginia team 38-0 in the regular season finale.
The Champs Sports Bowl seemed fairly determined to pair Florida State against Notre Dame, so we'll leave that matchup alone. How about Virginia over Utah in the Sun Bowl? And Georgia Tech over Louisville in the Belk Bowl? And N.C. State over Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl?
Any ACC opponent would probably get pasted against Missouri in the Independence Bowl because, of course, the Tigers were given the business by the Big 12 and placed in a bowl game without any conference tie-in ... over four schools that Missouri defeated during the year.
Finally, might the Heels have been able to pick up a win in the Military Bowl against either Air Force or Toledo, instead of losing big to Missouri in the Independence Bowl?
Plenty of what ifs, but if the ACC was given the chance to place its bowl-bound teams in the conference's bowl games based more on-field results, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that the conference's 2-5 record to date could have been 6-1.
You can perform a similar exercise on any of the ACC's other bowl seasons, e.g. 2005 when BC was shipped off to Boise despite winning a share of the Atlantic Division title or 2007 when BC and Matt Ryan were passed over by the Peach Bowl. We'll never know for sure of course, but my guess is that the ACC's bowl record over the last few years would improve, and dramatically so, if teams were picked based more on on-field factors instead of off-field ones.
So as you cringe when you hear all about the ACC's 2-5 record in bowl games -- and god forbid Clemson lose tonight in the Orange Bowl -- you have the Sugar Bowl selection committee to thank. The Sugar Bowl just haaad to have a team from the South, right?