The matchups we have been waiting for are finally etched in stone, with the ACC again placing a team in the College Football Playoff, as Clemson made it consecutive finishes in the top-four. The Tigers, of course, headline our rankings of the ACC’s bowl games. But make no mistake about it: There are plenty of good matchups among the ACC’s 11 bowl games. Here’s our list of most intriguing.
1. College Football Playoff semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 31, Glendale, Ariz.): No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State
These are repeat Playoff teams, with the Buckeyes having won it all in 2014 and the Tigers having lost to Alabama in the title game last year. As Dabo Swinney said this week, last year Clemson entered as No. 1 and finished as No. 2 -- and this year, he hopes to finish as No. 1 after entering as No. 2. This game features no shortage of star power, and is a rematch of the 2013 Orange Bowl, too.
A Don Brown defense featuring one of the nation's most exciting offensive players (Dalvin Cook)? Sign us up. The Seminoles have had a remarkable in-season turnaround and will look to make it five straight 10-win seasons, against an angry Wolverines team that dropped two of its last three games after a 9-0 start. The ACC has won four straight Orange Bowls.
The Cardinals need something to feel good about after losing their final two games. Perhaps they will be fueled by being passed over for the Orange Bowl by an FSU team they beat by 43 points. We’ll also know in a week whether this features the Heisman winner in Lamar Jackson -- or a snubbed Heisman loser in Jackson, who is seeking to take out his frustrations on an SEC opponent.
Stanford is on a quiet quest for 10 wins. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are like Louisville in the sense that a promising season ended with a pair of disappointing late-season defeats. UNC also needs a better bowl showing than 2015, when Baylor rushed for 645 yards on it.
Can the Hurricanes end Mark Richt’s debut season on a five-game winning streak, with a 9-4 record? They certainly need a better showing than their last time in this game, when Louisville ran them off the field in 2013. Beating 10-2 WVU -- one of the nation’s surprise teams -- would be an excellent cap to a solid year for Miami.
Now that we’ve got vote-gate out of the way with Bret Bielema … The Hokies have the chance to continue the ACC’s success against the SEC this year. And to reach the 10-win plateau for the first time in five years, which would make for quite the debut season for Justin Fuente.
There is plenty of history behind this game, as the Panthers played in the first college football game at Yankee Stadium, while late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once served as a Wildcats assistant coach. On the field, it’s a chance for Pitt to cement itself as a ranked team and generate momentum into next year, while Northwestern has the chance for a signature win.
The Demon Deacons are looking to finish with their first winning record since 2008, and they will face an Owls team likely in a bit of a transition phase after coach Matt Rhule left for Baylor.
How about the Yellow Jackets being in position to go 3-0 against the SEC this year, after beating Vanderbilt and Georgia? The Wildcats are no slouch this year, though, and it ought to be a tough test for the Jackets, who have had a very nice bounce back 8-4 season after going 3-9 last year.
What’s that? Another ACC-SEC matchup? You bet. And with the potential for a winning record on the line for the Wolfpack, that could quiet a lot of concerns going into next year -- although Vandy, like Kentucky, is nothing to sneeze at this year.
What once could have been a Big East vs. ACC game is now an ACC vs. Big Ten game. The Eagles are in their third bowl game in four years under Steve Addazio, but they’re still looking for their first bowl win under him.