With an NCAA-record 11 bowl eligible teams, there will be plenty of intriguing matchups to watch in the ACC this bowl season, but we think some will be more relevant than others. The VIZIO BCS National Championship game will be getting plenty of attention as we get closer to the game, so this post is focusing on the other bowls. Here are the top three position matchups we think will go a long way in determining the outcome of ACC bowl games this season:
1. Clemson’s wide receivers vs. Ohio State’s secondary (Discover Orange Bowl): Tigers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant have combined for 2,037 yards this year -- 1,237 by Watkins and an even 800 for Bryant. They already rank as the third-most productive duo in Clemson history in terms of receiving yardage in a season and need just 161 receiving yards in the bowl game to become No. 1. That doesn’t bode well for the Buckeyes, who rank No. 75 in the country in passing efficiency defense and have 14 interceptions this year. Ohio State’s top safety, Christian Bryant, broke his ankle in the Big Ten opener and the secondary hasn’t been the same since. Corner Bradley Roby has first- or second-round potential, but corner Doran Grant is young, and so is redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell.
2. Virginia Tech’s defensive line against UCLA’s offensive line (Hyundai Sun Bowl): If there’s one advantage the Hokies have in this game, it will be up front defensively, where a veteran group will face an offensive line that started three true freshmen this season. As expected, there has been some inconsistent play from the Bruins, forcing quarterback Brett Hundley to scramble a little more than planned. Still, Hundley could be a Heisman hopeful next year, and he was one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks without having reached his full potential yet. He led the league in completion percentage (67.8) and has eight touchdowns to just one interception over his past five games. Virginia Tech’s scoring defense, though, is No. 8 in the country, holding opponents to just 17.4 points per game. They’re No. 14 in tackles for loss, and No. 5 in sacks. If Virginia Tech’s D-line can get the edge and get to Hundley, it could be the difference in the game.
3. Miami’s secondary vs. Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville receivers (Russell Athletic Bowl): Miami’s defense has not been a highlight this season, and the secondary is a particular weakness that could be exposed by one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Bridgewater fell out of the national spotlight and the Heisman conversation following his team’s loss to UCF, but he still had a spectacular season, throwing for 3,523 yards and hitting career marks with a 70.2 completion percentage, 28 touchdown passes and a career-low four interceptions. Miami coach Al Golden said safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush need to be “more physical and more consistently physical.” It hasn’t been easy, as Bush has been hampered by hamstring and groin injuries. “Hopefully we’ll see him get healthy here and finish off the season well,” Golden said, according to the Miami Herald. “With Rayshawn, it’s continuing to trust the process and be consistent. Not your highs be high and your lows be low -- just continue to be consistent, and we have to get that play out of him, there’s no question about it.”