Fauber: ACC can reverse bowl trends

Christmas has come and gone, which means the college football bowl season is officially in full swing. For the next week and a half, college football games will dominate the ESPN family of networks, with the occasional FOX and CBS broadcast thrown in, before things begin to slow down with the buildup to the BCS National Championship game.

For fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference, this bowl season is providing a little extra for your viewing pleasure. In fact, the ACC set an NCAA record this year by sending 11 teams to bowl games. That is 78 percent of the conference competing in the postseason.

It’s no secret that the ACC has been heavily criticized for its performance — or lack thereof — in the postseason during the BCS era, and rightly so. (As a Virginia Tech fan, I understand this as well as anybody).

The ACC’s bowl season track record isn’t great, especially on the bigger stages of postseason play. The conference holds just a 3-13 record in BCS bowl games, which amounts to a miserable .187 winning percentage. And one of those wins came last season, when Florida State beat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.

The ACC has as many BCS wins as the Mountain West Conference, which needed just four appearances to reach that mark, and the conference went through an eight-game losing streak in BCS games from 2000 to 2007.

Prior to this season the ACC had garnered just one at-large bid for a BCS bowl and made an appearance in the national championship game just three times, as Florida State appeared in the first three BCS national title games from 1998-2000 (Miami appeared twice and Virginia Tech appeared once as a member of the Big East). The Seminoles’ 46-29 win over Virginia Tech in 1999 is currently the ACC’s only BCS championship.

But the ACC has a chance to lighten public perception in the final year of the current BCS format. The conference has two teams playing in BCS bowls this season, as Clemson squares off with Ohio State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, and Florida State will face Auburn in the national championship on Jan. 6.

It can’t be overstated how important those two games are for the ACC as a whole. Not only do both Clemson and Florida State need to play well in their respective games, they need to win. The conference needs to take advantage of the opportunities it gets against good competition from the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference.

The BCS games aren’t the only chances that the ACC has to gain some more respectability, however. The conference’s bowl schedule is littered with matchups against high-profile opponents.

Of the ACC’s 11 bowl games this season, three are against SEC opponents, two are against the Pac-12 and two more are against the Big Ten. There are also two more games against two of the best teams from the American Athletic Conference in Louisville (a future ACC member) and Cincinnati, both of which could compete in the ACC on a regular basis.

That provides plenty of chances for the ACC to pick up wins against good competition, but the problem is the ACC is facing just that — good competition. The conference certainly has its work cut out for it.

The ACC is 2-1 after its first three bowl games of the season, as Pittsburgh squeaked by MAC champion Bowling Green, 30-27, Thursday, while Maryland fell to Marshall, 31-20, and Syracuse defeated Minnesota 21-17 Friday.

The real test begins this afternoon, as North Carolina faces 9-3 Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl and Miami takes on No. 18 Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Those two games are followed by Monday’s Music City Bowl matchup between Georgia Tech and Ole Miss.

Things get considerably tougher on Tuesday, as Boston College faces off with Arizona and Virginia Tech takes on UCLA in the afternoon. On Tuesday night, Duke — the surprise of the ACC this season — runs up against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Then comes the Orange Bowl and, eventually, the national championship.

It’s unrealistic to expect the ACC to win all of those remaining games. It’s probably more realistic to expect the conference to lose all of them. But if there was ever a chance for the ACC to make a statement, this bowl season would be it.

It may be a really big stretch, but I’m really hoping for at least a 6-5 bowl record and a national championship for the ACC this year. Take note, this may be the first time I’ve ever pulled for Florida State in my entire life.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD