ACC finishes bowl season on high note

Clemson beat No. 8 LSU. Georgia Tech beat USC. Florida State won a BCS bowl.

This is a version of the ACC worth bragging about.

Finally, at a moment when many college football fans were expecting nothing, the ACC gave everything it had. After being pushed around all season, the ACC finally pushed back. The end result was a 4-2 record this bowl season, the league’s first winning record since 2005.

(Take that 2-5 Big Ten!)

The national championship game had nuthin’ on the drama of the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Clemson and LSU were in a knockdown, drag-out fight until the fourth quarter of what was arguably the best bowl game of the season. It took a last-second field goal by Chandler Catanzaro -- who had an extra point blocked in the second quarter -- for Clemson to win 25-24. It was a remarkable finish after a disastrous start that included an injury to star receiver Sammy Watkins as he fumbled the ball.

LSU was the highest-ranked bowl opponent the ACC has defeated since Clemson beat No. 6 Tennessee in 2003. Coupled with Florida State’s win over No. 15 Northern Illinois, it was only the second time the ACC has defeated two top-15 teams in the same bowl season. In 2001, Georgia Tech beat No. 11 Stanford, and Florida State beat No. 15 Virginia Tech, then in the Big East.

And this bowl season, even the Hokies found enough offense to win.

Somehow Virginia Tech managed to turn an overtime win into a snoozefest. The Hokies’ Russell Athletic Bowl win over Rutgers was like watching a bad movie for too long -- you felt obligated to see how it ends. Fortunately, it ended -- with the Hokies on top.

The only truly disappointing performance from the ACC came from NC State, but let’s give the Wolfpack a pass. NC State had a built-in excuse in that it was preparing to face an SEC team while in the midst of an awkwardly timed coaching transition. (Remember Miami in the Sun Bowl after Randy Shannon was fired? That timing just doesn’t help matters.) NC State had five turnovers, racked up 90 yards in penalties and couldn’t climb out of a 14-0 hole.

Fortunately for the ACC, the wins carried far more weight than the two losses (and Duke’s loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl was a heartbreaker for the program and the league, not an embarrassment).

USC -- yes, the same program that was ranked No. 1 this preseason -- was outcoached by Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson. Critics will say the Trojans weren’t motivated, didn’t want to be there and didn’t have quarterback Matt Barkley. That’s Lane Kiffin’s problem. The Yellow Jackets deserve credit for winning the program’s first bowl game under Johnson.

The ACC's 4-2 record was its best in terms of winning percentage since the league expanded in 2004. It hasn't gone 3-0 in its top three bowl tie-ins in the 15 years the Bowl Championship Series has been around.

Not bad for a conference that went 2-6 in its bowls a season ago.

The 2012 bowl season isn't going to erase one of the worst regular seasons in league history, but it should definitely give the conference and its fans some much-needed positive momentum heading into 2013.