What we learned: Bowl edition

Here’s a look at what we learned from the bowl games:

Florida State is the best team the conference has heading into 2011. Virginia Tech had a chance to make a statement in the national spotlight in the Discover Orange Bowl against Stanford, but instead we learned just how much of a gap really exists between the ACC champ and a top-five team. The Seminoles, however, looked confident and strong in their win over SEC East champ South Carolina. It was the kind of performance that should be a springboard into a productive offseason, and an impressive end to Jimbo Fisher’s first season.

The ACC’s bid for a winning bowl record fell short again. The conference entered its final bowl game with a 4-4 record, putting the pressure on Boston College, but the Eagles fell short in their loss to Nevada. It shouldn’t have come down to the final game, though. Georgia Tech suffered arguably the ACC’s worst loss of the bowl season, losing to Air Force, but Clemson didn’t help by losing to South Florida, and Miami was flat-out embarrassed by Notre Dame. The ACC has now had a losing bowl record for the past five seasons. Still, the conference is in good company, as the Big Ten and Big 12 also had losing records.

Virginia Tech owns the ACC -- but that’s all. That the Hokies went undefeated in conference play shouldn’t be under appreciated, but when it comes to knocking off tough nonconference competition, Virginia Tech came up short again. The Hokies fell to 1-27 against teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25, and two of those losses came this year -- in the season opener to Boise State, and then in the Orange Bowl against Stanford. It’s not as if Virginia Tech is the only program in the country that has struggled to beat top-five teams (and Stanford really was that good). What stood out about this loss was that coach Frank Beamer had said he thought this team was good enough to win, and considering the momentum they had built after the 0-2 start, it was easy to jump aboard the Hokie train. Instead, the Hokies derailed when they allowed 27 points in the second half.

NC State was better than its last league loss. The Wolfpack let a chance at playing for the ACC title slip away in the regular season finale, but it didn’t let that loss to Maryland beat it twice. In fact, the Pack fared better against West Virginia than Maryland did, as the Terps lost 31-17 in Morgantown. It wasn’t a flawless performance, but NC State won the turnover battle in the win over West Virginia, giving the ACC one of two wins over a ranked opponent this bowl season (the other being FSU over South Carolina). NC State won nine games for the first time since 2002, a huge step forward in Tom O’Brien’s fourth season.

Maryland was inspired, Miami ... tired? Two teams, two programs in transition, only one used it as motivation. Maryland came to play for former coach Ralph Friedgen, who was fired after being named the ACC’s Coach of the Year. The Terps were relentless in a 51-20 win over East Carolina. Miami, on the other hand, came out flat in a 33-17 loss to Notre Dame -- with new coach Al Golden watching. Friedgen went out with four straight bowl wins and five overall, the most of any coach at the school, while Miami lost its third straight bowl game.