One last set of ACC- and Navy-related picks before closing the door on the 2012 college football season. …
* Belk Bowl: Duke vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 27, 6:30, ESPN): Bearcats 38-27. The Blue Devils provided a great story this season, darting to a 5-1 start and inserting themselves into the ACC championship chase. They faded in the second half, but not before becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Don’t look for Duke to be the proverbial “just happy to be there” team. Do look for Cincinnati to drop at least 30 points —- just like each of the Blue Devils’ last six opponents.
* Russell Athletic Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Rutgers (Dec. 28, 5:30, ESPN): Scarlet Knights 27-20. A disappointment at nearly every turn this season, it would be appropriate for the Hokies to be stuck with their first losing season in 20 years. Rutgers has a decent postseason history, winning five straight bowl games over the last six seasons.
* Fight Hunger Bowl: Navy vs. Arizona State (Dec. 29, 4, ESPN2): Sun Devils 34-27. Here’s the thing with the Midshipmen —- they’ve already played their bowl game. It’s called the Army-Navy game, and no game before or after it is going to carry as much weight. Toss in a limited practice schedule during final exams and a brief break to return home for the holidays, and there just hasn’t been as much time to get ready for this one as the Sun Devils enjoyed. That said, Navy’s clock-churning offense is an incredible equalizer, and the Mids should keep things tight well into the game.
* Music City Bowl: N.C. State vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 31, Noon, ESPN): Wolfpack 27-24. While Virginia Tech was frustrating to project simply because it seemed inevitable the Hokies would revert to historical form and didn’t, N.C. State was even more confounding. It all led to the dismissal of Tom O’Brien, with this game under the old staff (minus O’Brien) an epilogue to the last six years.
It’s so tempting to pick Vanderbilt here, but did you know only two of the Commodores’ 14 victories the last two seasons came against bowl teams (2011 Wake Forest and 2012 Mississippi)? That Wake bunch went 6-7, and Ole Miss is 6-6 entering its bowl game. Credit to James Franklin for invigorating Vanderbilt, but it’s not a stretch to say this would be the program’s most notable win under the rising coach.
* Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Southern California (Dec. 31, 2, CBS): Trojans 34-17. The Yellow Jackets have a shot at a rare 6-8 season … but only because they’re 6-7 after an ACC title game loss and an NCAA waiver for bowl eligibility. The highlight of this very well may be of Mr. SEC himself, Gary Danielson, holding his nose for more than three hours during the broadcast.
* Chick-Fil-A Bowl: Clemson vs. Louisiana State (Dec. 31, 7:30, ESPN): Tigers (SEC edition) 31-27. At least Louisiana State won’t score 70 points in this one. While the regular-season finale wasn’t particularly flattering for Clemson, look for Tajh Boyd and Co. to stay close to the school from the other Death Valley well into the second half.
* Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Northern Illinois (Jan. 1, 8:30, ESPN): Seminoles 27-14. It really is a no-win scenario for Florida State, which is perceived to be the superior team and won’t get credit for much of anything if it wins easily and a heaping helping of scorn should it lose or allow the Huskies to make a game of it. The Seminoles’ defense (and especially its defensive front) is something Northern Illinois, however good it is, has not seen all year. That should be the difference as Florida State earns its first victory in a BCS game since Sugar Bowl following the 1999 season.
Army-Navy record: 1-0
Overall record: 82-27 (33-15 conference)
ACC record: 73-24 (33-15 conference)
Preseason ACC record: 71-25 (32-16 conference)
Navy record: 9-3
—- Patrick Stevens