A challenging regular season now in the rearview mirror and the Atlantic Coast Conference now turns its attention to bowl season. Most importantly, on New Year’s Day. For the first time in the seven-year history of the College Football Playoffs, the conference will have more than one team in the semifinals. Notre Dame and Clemson, both 10-1, will have the chance to possible meet for the third time this season. If that happens, it will be with a national championship at stake. Standing in the way are Alabama of the SEC and Ohio State from the Big 10. The final four of college football are set to kick off in the Rose Bowl late afternoon on Friday. It will feature the Irish taking on the Crimson Tide (11-0). It is a rematch of a BCS National Championship game of 2013 won by Alabama. Then that night, another rematch of last year’s CFP semifinal between the Tigers and the Buckeyes (6-0), which Clemson won in the Sugar Bowl. Let’s take a look at what is in store.
For the Fighting Irish, this season could not have gone any better. Their one season as a true member of the league will give them a chance at the biggest prize that college football has to offer. But it will not be easy. As mentioned, ND and Alabama met back in 2013 with the championship at stake. It did not go well for the Irish on that night. The Crimson Tide won going away 42-14. This will be the eighth time the two programs have played each other with the Fighting Irish having the overall edge winning five of the seven previous games. Under Brian Kelly’s leadership, the Irish have made the postseason in ten of the eleven seasons that Kelly has been the head coach. ND is 5-4 in those prior bowl games. Kelly, who was named ACC Coach of the Year before the conference title game was played, is looking to cap this season off in fine style.
To do it, he will need two players, one from each side of the ball, to come up big vs the Crimson Tide. On defense, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the 2020 winner of the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker, will be front and center trying to slow down an Alabama offense that has been running full steam all season. He was also named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. On offense, quarterback Ian Book will be asked to run the Irish game plan to a tee. Book comes into this game with thirty wins as the starting QB. Getting number 31 will be earned. The Tide should be the favorite in this one, but do not sell the Irish short as Clemson will attest to.
Speaking of the Tigers, they get the chance to play Ohio State in the semifinals once again. Last year’s meeting was a 29-23 win for Clemson. This will be the fifth time these two programs have played each other. The Tigers have won all four to date. For Clemson, this will be the 16th straight bowl appearance and the 47th overall. They are 25-21 all-time in bowl games. The Tigers are bidding for national title number four and the third under head coach Dabo Swinney. They are playing in their sixth college football semifinal and that ties them with Alabama for the most trips in the seven-year history of the playoffs. The conference has placed at least one team in the CFP in all seven years. The Tigers are the number two seed for the third time having been the #2 seed in 2016 & 2018.
Quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, is the straw that stirs this drink. Named as a Heisman Trophy finalist, Lawrence was 9-0 as the Tigers starting QB. In the ACC Championship game, in which he was named MVP, Lawrence was 25-of-36 for 322 yards. He also ran the ball 14 times for 90 yards including a 34-yard TD run. Lawrence was named the league Offensive Player of the Year. For his career, he is 34-1 as the Tiger singular caller, the best among all QBs with at least thirty career starts. For the season, Trevor has completed 198 of 286 passes for 2,753 yards and 22 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 211 yards on 58 carriers with seven rushing touchdowns.
The conference has several other teams making bowl appearances this season. On Dec. 30, Miami (8-2) will take on Oklahoma State in the Cheez-it-Bowl. This will be the 44th bowl game for the Hurricanes and the eighth straight. This will be the second meeting between these two schools with Miami winning the last one 40-3 back in the 1991 Orange Bowl. Wake Forest (4-4) will play in the Duke Mayo Bowl vs Wisconsin. This will be the first all-time meeting between these two teams. This will be the Demon Deacons fifth consecutive bowl game under head coach Dave Clawson. Wake has won three of their last four bowl games. Overall, this will be their 15th bowl appearance. The TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville is where North Carolina State is going. At 8-3, they will take on Kentucky. The last time they met in a bowl game was in 1970 with the Wildcats getting the win 27-2. This will be the fifth trip to the Gator Bowl and the sixth bowl game in the last eight seasons under Dave Doeren. North Carolina (8-3) is heading to the Orange Bowl to face Texas A&M. This will be the Tar Heels first trip to this game and the first time they will meet up with A&M. This will be UNC’s 35th bowl game and the second straight under Mack Brown. This is the Tar Heels first major bowl game since the 1950 Cotton Bowl.
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