Collectively, the entire ACC has something to prove this bowl season, and with an NCAA-record 11 bowl-eligible teams, there will be ample opportunities for the league to do that. Some teams, though, have more to prove than others. Here are the top three ACC teams who need bowl wins the most this year:
1. Virginia Tech: The Hokies enter the Hyundai Sun Bowl against No. 17 UCLA with a 2-5 record against their past seven ranked opponents, dating back to 2011. They’ve lost two of their past three bowl games, and haven’t beaten a ranked opponent in a bowl game since 2008, when they beat No. 12 Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl. Since joining the ACC, Virginia Tech has been one of the Coastal Division’s premier programs, but it has taken a dip over the past two seasons. With an 8-4 record, this year was better than 2012, but the offense still remains a work in progress under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler. In what will be quarterback Logan Thomas’ final game with the Hokies, the senior will have to deliver one of his better performances against UCLA. A win against the Bruins could catapult the Hokies into the final Associated Press Top 25, and really give the program something to build on heading into next season.
2. Georgia Tech: Was last year’s Sun Bowl win over USC an anomaly or the start of a trend in the Paul Johnson era? Last year’s 21-7 win over the storied program was a huge burden off the back of Johnson, who had lost the four previous bowl games while coaching the Jackets. Last year’s bowl win snapped a seven-game bowl losing streak for the program, as Georgia Tech hadn’t won a bowl game since 2004 against Syracuse. Much has been made about opposing defenses having more than enough time to prepare for Johnson’s spread option offense, but Johnson will point out that his team has had an equal amount of time to prepare for that defense. He considers it a wash. They’ll face an unranked Ole Miss team that ended the season with back-to-back losses in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, but the Rebels will still present a challenge for the Georgia Tech defense.
3. Miami: It’s hard to believe that Miami hasn’t won a bowl game since 2006. Shocking, really. For the past two seasons, the program has served a self-imposed postseason ban, it lost three straight bowls from 2008-2010, and finished 5-7 in 2007. To say the Canes are long overdue is an understatement. Miami coach Al Golden has the program heading in the right direction, but a win in the Russell Athletic Bowls is a much-needed next step – especially in the Canes’ home state and recruiting turf. Recruiting is going well, and a nine-win season is nothing to scoff at, but the expectations are higher for one of the ACC’s brand-name programs. An upset won’t be easy, as Louisville features one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Teddy Bridgewater, but it will offer a glimpse into next season when the Cardinals officially join the ACC.