So far, it's one step forward and three steps back, as usual, for the ACC this bowl season.
In the conference's perpetual pursuit of national respect in college football, Clemson's Music City Bowl win over Kentucky stands as the only circle on the ACC's scorecard, cluttered with losing squares around North Carolina, Miami and Boston College.
Of course, the Tigers already did enough damage by losing to a different 7-5 SEC team (South Carolina) before the ACC championship game. Beating a 7-5 Kentucky team that finished 3-5 in the SEC merely avoided further embarrassment for the ACC rather than establish any claim to inter-conference dominance.
Miami, a 20-14 loser to No. 24 Wisconsin in Tuesday's Champs Sports Bowl, was the only favorite to lose. UNC gave away its bowl (again), a 19-17 loss to No. 17 Pittsburgh in Saturday's Meineke Car Care Bowl, and Boston College was outclassed 24-13 by Southern California in the Emerald Bowl.
Miami got run over by a bigger Wisconsin team, which raises questions again about Randy Shannon's viability as a coach. If 9-4 is what Miami wants, then fine, but if a return to the glory days of "The U" remains on the wish list, Shannon is not the right coach.
As a general rule, bowls are 60 percent motivation, 30 percent preparation and 10 percent talent. Miami wasn't motivated, UNC wasn't prepared and Boston College didn't have enough talent.
It should be noted that the Eagles' loss to a disheveled USC program, playing outside of the Bowl Championship Series limelight for the first time in eight years, defied all "motivation is everything in bowls" logic.
The ACC gets three more bowl chances and needs a sweep to finish above .500. The Techs, of Georgia and Virginia, are favored in the conference's two highest-profile games, Tuesday's Orange and tonight's Chick-fil-A, respectively.
Georgia Tech should be motivated after last year's bowl disaster against LSU, and coach Paul Johnson definitely will have the players prepared for blue-collar Iowa.
Virginia Tech has the edge in preparation and talent over Tennessee, but the Vols and their goofy first-year coach, Lane Kiffin, have a motivational edge on paper.
Using Occam's razor, it's a given the ACC won't win all three of its remaining bowls - the Gator Bowl's Florida State-West Virginia matchup on Friday is the third bowl - but a 3-4 finish seems to fit the postexpansion script.
The ACC's bowl record was 4-6 last season, 2-6 in 2007 and 4-4 in 2006.
And before you dismiss the results as meaningless, although it's an argument with merit, you can be sure the opponents of the BCS cartel (cough, Congress) will point to the Mountain West's 3-0 bowl record as a reason for change/admission to the snack-chip sponsored reindeer games.
The most encouraging part of UNC's 19-17 loss to Pittsburgh was a throw-away line about competition by Tar Heels coach Butch Davis in the postgame news conference.
"The only way you are going to find out if you are any good is when you start playing good teams," Davis said. "You don't find anything out when you go out and beat someone 42-0. You don't learn anything about your program."
Let's hope that means no one will have to pay full price to watch Carolina scrimmage The Citadel or Georgia Southern in the foreseeable future. (And let's hope N.C. State and Duke will follow suit in nonconference scheduling.)
To Davis' credit, UNC has only one Football Championship Subdivision opponent on the 2010 schedule and opens with SEC heavyweight LSU in Atlanta.
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