ACC upset watch: Bowl edition

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
10:30
AM ET
One look at the ACC’s bowl lineup this year, and it seems as if there could be upsets left and right. Virginia Tech over No. 17 UCLA? Sure, why not. (The offense, that’s why.) Cincy over Carolina? Hey, don’t joke, the Tar Heels have lost their past three bowl games to former Big East teams. For the purposes of this post, though, we decided to limit the upset potential to three games, each featuring a ranked opponent we think can be taken down. A reminder that these are NOT predictions: Instead, they’re a ranking of the three favored opponents we think are most likely to topple this bowl season:

1. Miami vs. No. 18 Louisville, Russell Athletic Bowl: When Miami quarterback Stephen Morris is healthy, he has the potential to be one of the best in the country. He’s going to have to be to beat Louisville, which is second in the nation in total defense. Still, the Canes will have arguably the best offense Louisville has seen all season, playing in a watered-down American Athletic Conference. If Miami can beat the Louisville secondary with some deep balls, it stands a chance. Miami will also be playing in its home state, and there are plenty of alumni within driving distance to Orlando. The Canes are 9-1-1 in the series against Louisville, and will be playing to prove that they are the superior program as the Cardinals are set to enter the ACC next season and will play Miami again in 2014.

2. No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State, Discover Orange Bowl: There’s no way Clemson turns it over six times again, right? There’s no way the Tigers flop like they did the last time they were in the Orange Bowl, a performance so embarrassing we’ll spare them rehashing it here. One thing is for sure: Clemson’s defense will have to play better than it did that day, but the Tigers are also a much better defense in Year 2 under Brent Venables. They’ll be challenged by Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, who have both rushed for more than 1,000 yards and have given defenses headaches with the zone-option. Clemson now has Michigan State’s performance as a blueprint, though, for the defense. In order for Clemson to have a chance, it simply can’t give Ohio State freebies like it did South Carolina. The turnovers, coupled with the intangible of redemption, could be the difference in this game. In what will be the final performance of Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, he and his receivers should have the edge against a young, average Ohio State secondary.

3. Florida State vs. Auburn, VIZIO BCS National Championship: Andrea Adelson and I have had Florida State ranked No. 1 in our Top 25 for ESPN.com for weeks, so we both agree the Noles are the best team in the country. Auburn, however, has college football’s good fortune in its hands. The Tigers are Livin’ on a Prayer, a Hail Mary away from winning a national title. And they’re running the ball extremely well. The Tigers ran for almost 300 yards against Alabama, and an astounding 545 yards against Missouri to win the SEC championship. Slowing down Tre Mason will be a top priority for the Noles, but Auburn’s best shot at winning the game is by doing what it does best -- running the ball and misdirection. Quarterback Nick Marshall has feet like a running back and speed like a defensive back, and he’s difficult to tackle in open space. Auburn’s defense, meanwhile, will be tasked with slowing down arguably the best group of receivers in the country. FSU quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy, but his receivers are a big reason why. If Auburn can slow down that passing game and continue to run the ball efficiently -- and of course get at least one “miracle play,” -- then there could be an upset of the No. 1 team in the country -- and an eighth straight SEC title.

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