NGSC Sports

Bowl Season Preview: The ACC

With the bowl season now in full swing, the Atlantic Coast Conference has multiple teams playing in bowl matchups this week while an old rivalry will get renewed in a different venue.

At the Little Caesars bowl, it will be the Pittsburgh Panthers taking on the Bowling Green Falcons out of the MAC conference. The Panthers (6-6, 3-5) come into this game seeking their first winning season since 2010. Quarterback Tom Savage has had an up and down season for Pittsburgh. His numbers are 230 for 376, good for 2,834 yards, 21 TD and 9 INT are not bad, but what is disturbing is the number of times Savage was sacked during the season. Savage found the turf 41 times this year, which is a FBS high for the campaign. When he was able to avoid the rush, his favorite target was WR Tyler Boyd, who finished the regular season with 77 receptions for 1,101 yards which placed him fourth in the ACC.  On defense, the unit was led by Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald, the ACC defensive player of the year for 2013, who has also been awarded the Nagurski, Lombardi, Bednarik awards as well as the Outland Trophy. Donald has become one of the most decorated players in school history. He led the nation with an averaged of 2.2 tackles for losses per game and was 13th in the country with 10 sacks. On average, the Panther defense gave up 27.2 points per game which ranked them 11th in the conference.

Bowling Green, the champions of the MAC, is seeking a school record 11th win, on offense quarterback Matt Johnson has thrown for 3,195 yards, 23 TD, 7 INT. the unit scored on average 35.4 points per game good for 27th in the nation. When the Falcons were not going up top to gain yards their run game led by T. Greene was just as effected gaining 1,555 yards on 261 carries and 11 TD. Defense was stout giving up only 14.8 points per game which was fifth best in the nation.

The Military Bowl finds Maryland (6-6) playing Marshall (9-4, 7-1). For the Terps, this will be their final game as a member of the ACC. Next year, Maryland will become a full time member of the Big Ten. After getting off to a 4-0 start, the injury bug really hit this team hard, but through it all, Maryland found away to qualify for the bowl season. Quarterback C.J. Brown had a pretty good year considering all the injuries he had to deal with, throwing for 2,045 yards, 11 TD, 6 INT. Wide receiver Levern Jacobs (40 catches, 540 yards, 2 TD) stepped up for Brown in the passing game when star wide out Stefron Diggs went down with a season ending broken right fibula. Both offense and defense finished the season about the same. The offense scored 26.7 points per game defense gave up 24.8 points per game.

Marshall, out of Conference USA arrived at this bowl game as the winner of seven of their last eight games. Their offense is led by quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has had a monster year with 3,579 yards of passing, 36 TD, and 9 INT. Cato has two favorite targets: WR Tommy Shuler (97 catches, 1,097 yards, 9 TD) and Tight End Gator Hoskins (44 receptions, 717 yards, 13 TD). If yards on the ground are needed, RB Essray Taliaferro has been the man to get the job done with 202 rushes, 1,059 yards, 9 TD.

At the Texas Bowl, the name of the game will be running the ball. Both teams, Syracuse (6-6, 4-4) and Minnesota, both feature the run attack. For the Orange, it all came down to their final game of the season vs. Boston College. A win was necessary for Syracuse to advance and play in a bowl game. Led by quarterback Terrell Hunt (60.7% completion, 1,450 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT), who engineered a game ending drive, the Orange was able to beat the Eagles and find their way into this bowl game. The running attack has been Syracuse’s best weapon this season. They finished fourth in the ACC, averaging 193.8 yards pre game. Running back Jerome Smith has led the way, gaining 840 yards on 184 carries with 11 TD. The Orange produced the third worst passing attack in the conference at 181.5 yards per game.

Syracuse’s opponent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, are also a team that would prefer to grind it out on the ground. Their 237 passing attempts were the sixth lowest in the FBS this season. Running Back David Cobb leads the ground attack with 219 rushes for 1,111 yards and 7 TD. The Golden Gophers have used two quarterbacks this season with Phillip Nelson (51.4%, 1,288 yards, 9 TD, 6 INT) has been the starter for the most part. Backup QB Mitch Leidner (57.1%, 666 yards, 2 TD, and 9 INT) has also seen some time with the offense. Neither has been effective throwing the ball as Minnesota finished the season ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards (141.8 per game).

These two teams have met four times previously to this one with Minnesota winning three of the last 4 games between the schools.

The Belk Bowl provides an interesting matchup. The Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3, 6-2) will play the North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6, 4-4). The Tar Heels’ season got off to a horrible start at 1-5, but they rallied over the second half of the season to get the chance to play in this game. Quarterback Marquise Williams, who took over for the injured Bryn Renner, was the catalyst for the turnaround. His numbers were solid with 58.2% completions for 1,527 yards with 14 TD and 6 INT. He also led the team in rushing with 102 carries for 490 yards and 6 TD. His favorite passing target was Mackey award finalist, Tight End, Eric Ebron (55 receptions, 895 yards, 3 TD). The Tar Heels are just the sixth team since the regular season expanded to twelve games to make a bowl game after starting out 1-5.

The Cincinnati Bearcats, out of the American Athletic Conference, are solid on both sides of the ball. Their offense, led by QB Brendon Kay (68.6%, 3,121 yards, 22 TD, and 11 INT), average 33.3 point’s per game. Kay’s go-to man in the passing game has been WR Anthony McClung (68 catchers, 908 yards, 5 TD). On defense, the Bearcats allowed only 19.5 points per game. In fact, Cincinnati outscored their opponents by 166 points.

The Russell Athletic Bowl featured two teams that will be seeing a lot of each other in the coming years. The Miami Hurricanes (9-3, 5-3) will take on the Louisville Cardinals (11-1, 7-1). Miami’s season changed when RB Duke Johnson went down with a season ending injury (broken ankle). Quarterback Stephen Morris has tried to take on more of the load on offense. Morris threw for 2,868 yards this year with 21 TD and 12 INT. WR Allen Hums had 60 receptions for 1,138 yards and 6 TD and has become Morris’ favorite target. The running game has been led by Dallas Crawford (126 carries, 523 yards, 12 TD) in Johnson’s absence. Since the beginning of November, the Canes have struggled on third down where they have converted a conference worst 32.8%.

The Louisville Cardinals will be playing their final game in the AAC and they will begin play in the Atlantic Coast Conference next year. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has had a terrific season for the Cardinals, throwing for 3,523 yards on 70.2% completion rate with 28 TD and only 4 INT. The defense is led by Defensive End Marcus Smith, who finished second in the nation with 12 and a half sacks. Overall, the Cardinal defense was good, giving up on averaged 257.9 yards per game, which is second best in all of FBS. Against the run, this defense gave up only 86.3 yards pre game.

On November 21, 2015, the “holy war” will be renewed as Boston College and Notre Dame will play each other for the first time as affiliated conference members. The Fighting Irish will become a semi regular opponent of ACC schools beginning in 2014. The venue for the first meeting between these schools is what makes this interesting, Fenway Park in Boston, MA. It will be the first football played in “America’s most beloved ballpark” since 1968. Notre Dame will be the home team for this game and when the two teams meet again in 2017, the game will be move back to Alumni Stadium with BC as the home team.

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