The ACC has been on display over the last two days of the college bowl season, both the present and the future and no game was more eye-opening than the whipping Louisville, arriving in the conference next year, put on current ACC member Miami.
Louisville came into the game at 11-1, but hadn’t beaten an opponent by as many as 27 points since back in September. That includes a lot of American Athletic conference games against less than stellar competition. But the Cardinals opened up and pounded the Hurricanes 36-9, in a display of complete dominance.
Head coach Charlie Strong built his reputation as a defensive coordinator, and the D was in full force in Orlando, holding Miami to just 14 rush yards. The Cardinal defense made the on-again off-again Hurricane quarterback Stephen Morris spend the night in “off” mode, as he went just 12-for-27 for 160 yards. Offensively, Louisville didn’t dominate in the trenches, but with 107 rush yards they got enough to allow for offensive balance.
All of the above set the stage for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to have an electric night, the best individual performance we’ve seen thus far in the bowl season. Bridgewater completed 35/45 for 447 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Mouths were surely watering in locales like Houston and St. Louis, which have a chance of picking first in the NFL draft (the Rams via Washington’s pick). I’m going to give the Bridgewater the highest compliment I can think of. For this one day alone he can have the nickname “Teddy Ballgame”, the moniker ascribed to Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams, the greatest baseball hitter of all time.
Strong has been rumored for other jobs himself, from Texas to the NFL openings that will start to pop up tomorrow. The rest of the ACC, have gotten a taste of the ‘Ville shoved down their throat is undoubtedly hoping that Strong moves on and the junior quarterback decides to go pro.
Other games with the ACC connection included…
North Carolina 39 Cincinnati 17: The Tar Heels scored twice on special teams and got a safety on defense, quickly blowing open a game that had looked a little more even on paper. Terrific job from the Carolina defense in forcing Brendon Kay into an erratic 15-for-35 passing night.
Notre Dame 29 Rutgers 16: Notre Dame will soon start playing five games a year against the ACC, as the Irish join the conference in all non-football sports. Rutgers hung in for three quarters and only trailed 16-13, but the Irish pulled away and really controlled the game in all phases. Notre Dame picked off four passes defensively, stopped the Rutgers run and got a good game from Tommy Rees, at 27/47 for 319 yard.
Marshall 31 Maryland 20: This was a more alarming result for the ACC than the Miami loss, since it happened against a Conference USA team, and not even the league champion at that. Marshall’s Rakeem Cato lit up the Terps, at 28/44 for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17: Whatever alarm had been raised by Maryland was quickly calmed by Syracuse as they handed the Big Ten a damaging loss. The Orange came in 6-6 and barely qualified for a bowl, while the Gophers had gone 8-4. Syracuse used a punt return to set up a late touchdown that won it, but if you look deeper into the result, you see the Orange pushing Minnesota around for 208 rush yards.
The performance of the ACC was a mixed bag early on, which makes it tough for us to get a read on anything that points to how Florida State will match up against the SEC in the national championship game. The Syracuse-Minnesota result has to at least be kept in mind when we get to the Orange Bowl matchup of Clemson-Ohio State, another Big Ten-ACC challenge.
Minnesota’s loss raises such concern because they are a team built on defense and controlling the ball and they did this very well when matched up against Big Ten teams. The fact the Gophers suddenly looked hapless against the run when playing even a mediocre team from the ACC is enough to send the alarm bells.
All of this makes a nice segueway to our final two results of Friday-Saturday, one of which was another big disappointment for the Big Ten…
Kansas State 31 Michigan 14: The Wolverines were playing with backup quarterback Shane Morris, so their offensive problems can be forgiven. What can’t be excused is that Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters, who has not inspired a single comparison to predecessor Collin Klein all year, had a great night, going 21/27 for 270 yards and never forced an interception.
In spite of the fact Tyler Lockett was K-State’s only threat at the skill positions, Michigan couldn’t be bothered to cover the receiver, as he caught ten balls for 116 yards. Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke is going to hear about it during the offseason and he deserves it after this non-performance. A great end to the year for Kansas State and a terrific rebuilding job by Bill Snyder.
Washington 31 BYU 16: Washington won the battle of special teams, getting a kickoff return for a touchdown. And while they didn’t stop BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, they did at least force him into a somewhat erratic passing night (25/48) and the Cougars never got the conventional running game with Jamaal Williams going.
It was enough for a solid 95-yard night from Huskie running back Bishop Sankey to put Washington over the top. This game continues what’s been a good opening to the bowl season for the Pac-12. Washington joins Oregon State and USC in looking very good in wins, while Washington State lost a fluky game. The conference’s big guns still have to play (UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford), so keep these early results in mind.