The Washington Times - December 18, 2008, 09:17PM

Is it a bit early for a breakdown of the ACC’s 10 bowl games?

Maybe.

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Do I reserve the right to revisit the Maryland prediction a little closer to game day?

Absolutely.

But beyond that, it’s time to make some calls as the ACC’s first postseason tie-in (Saturday’s EagleBank Bowl) approaches.

The league went 2-6 in bowls last year, its first losing record in the postseason since 2000. Gotta admit I was a bit surprised at that.

The league will fare better this year. Perhaps it won’t be great, but .500 would be about right given the matchups.

And here they are, in chonological order:

* EagleBank Bowl, Wake Forest vs. Navy (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN): Demon Deacons 23-20. I was leaning Navy for much of the last two weeks. After all, the Midshipmen are coming off back-to-back shutouts for the first time in 22 years and won the first game between the teams, and in KrispyKremeville, no less.

Still, Wake Forest committed six turnovers that afternoon. The Demon Deacons almost never commit six turnovers. It simply doesn’t make sense to think it’ll happen again. And Wake only lost that game by a touchdown.

Wake’s defense is solid, and if it isn’t driven batty by Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, it could be able to cover for an offense that has consisted of D.J. Boldin and nearly nothing else at times this season.

* Meineke Car Care Bowl, North Carolina vs. West Virginia (Dec. 27, 1, ESPN): Tar Heels 27-17. The Mountaineers lost a step after the departure of tailback Steve Slaton, fullback Owen Schmitt and coach Rich Rodriguez. They just weren’t as sharp, and every time I caught a glimpse of them it just re-inforced that observation.

Now, North Carolina didn’t exactly play great down the stretch. But Butch Davis‘ team might have authored its best performances of the season coming out of its two byes – at Rutgers and at home against Georgia Tech. With several weeks to get ready, chances are good Hakeem Nicks will have a fine day before ultimately saying sayonara to Chapel Hill.

* Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State vs. Wisconsin (Dec. 27, 4:30, ESPN): Seminoles 28-10. This isn’t praise for the Seminoles so much as it is a glance at the 7-5 Badgers and wondering how they were so fortunate to parlay a mediocre season into a week in Orlando.

Wisconsin beat two bowl teams, the patently mediocre Minnesota and Fresno State. The Badgers also needed overtime to win their finale against Cal Poly. Now, Cal Poly is good, but it shouldn’t be good enough to win at Camp Randall in most seasons.

The Florida State defense should enjoy a fine day. If it can stop the Badgers’ ground game – and here’s guessing it will – this could be one of the more lopsided matchups of the bowl season.

* Emerald Bowl: Miami vs. California (Dec. 27, 8, ESPN): Golden Bears 31-20. The Miami Herald reported today quarterback Robert Marve won’t be making the trip to the West Coast. Not that it would really matter.

The Hurricanes were exposed in the season’s final two weeks as a team that can ill-afford to find itself in a shootout. And make no mistake, California will score points. Lots of them.

Jahvid Best, the gridiron vomit comet who gacked at Byrd Stadium back on Sept. 13, wound up with 1,394 yards in 11 games. That’s impressive, and his Heisman buzz for 2009 will begin with a strong effort against Miami.

* Papajohns.com Bowl: N.C. State vs. Rutgers (Dec. 29, 3, ESPN): Wolfpack 27-20. This is a strangely good bowl game, maybe one of the five best matchups in the entire 34-game slate. Who cares if the teams are a combined 13-11?

It would be foolish to ignore quarterback Russell Wilson’s superlative play, or coach Tom O’Brien’s six-game winning streak in bowl games. The Wolfpack is a good bet to join that tier of 8-4 teams in the ACC next year, and finishing this season on a five-game winning streak is a good way to head into that potential breakout year.

* Humanitarian Bowl: Maryland vs. Nevada (Dec. 30, 4:30, ESPN): Wolf Pack 38-35. A total coin flip, this one is. Two 7-5 teams in a cold environment on a blue field far from civilization. OK, Boise counts as civilization. But a late afternoon, midweek kickoff? Who knows how this will play out.

Nevada’s rushing offense is exemplary, and could shred the Terps. Of course, the Wolf Pack don’t stop anyone through the air, and that bodes well for Chris Turner.

As mentioned earlier, I reserve the right to switch this one closer to game time. Ralph Friedgen sensed his team was excited to make the westward journey last week. If that keeps up, I might just call an audible here. Either way, a pick involving Maryland is pure guesswork – like that’s anything new.

* Music City Bowl: Boston College vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 31, 3:30, ESPN): Eagles 27-9. Boston College has won its last eight bowl games. Vanderbilt hasn’t played in one since 1982.

Boston College rallied from a so-so start in league play to win its division. Vanderbilt parlayed a 5-0 start into a 6-6 season.

It doesn’t matter if this one’s in Nashville. It’s the Eagles’ game to lose, and Frank Spaziani’s superb defense should throttle an offense that produced 114 points in its last eight games (14.25 a game).

* Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Louisiana State (Dec. 31, 7:30, ESPN): Yellow Jackets 35-17. Paul Johnson opts to pursue a mythical SEC title, drilling the Tigers to complement earlier defeats of Mississippi State and Georgia and a spurning of Auburn.

Louisiana State couldn’t slow down anyone remotely decent other than perhaps Alabama.  Still, the Tigers’ last three opponents all dropped 31 points on them, and Georgia Tech will at least match that while playing in its hometown.

* Gator Bowl: Clemson vs. Nebraska (Jan. 1, 1, CBS): Cornhuskers 30-27. Bo Pelini clearly learned well from Riverboat Gambler Les Miles, since his special teams calls in the season finale against Colorado were fraught with peril. But he also has Nebraska playing well, and Clemson didn’t exactly build up a loaded resume on its way to 7-5.

The Tigers remain talented, but this is a chance for Nebraska to announce its return. The Huskers will take advantage in what could a very entertaining way to nurse a hangover.

* Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati (Jan. 1, 8:30, Fox): Bearcats 20-17. Based on the principle the ACC champion has lost its bowl game eight straight years and there’s no reason to bet on that changing until it actually happens.

Oh, and there’s the matter the Hokies aren’t an offensive juggernaut and the reality Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly is one of the sharpest coaches out there. It should be a close game, but might be one of the least entertaining bowls of any including an ACC team.

Well, that’s a 6-4 projection for the ACC. We’ll see if that can improve this performance from the regular season:

Season record: 64-33 (28-20 conference)