News & Observer sports columnists Caulton Tudor and Luke DeCock debate some of the big issues of the bowl season, from N.C. State and Dukes chances to the national championship and the ACCs fortunes.
Who wins the Music City Bowl, N.C. State or Vanderbilt?
TUDOR: As much as many folks would like to see Dana Bible coach the Wolfpack to a win, almost everything is working in Vanderbilts favor.
Not that Vandy is overstocked with fans, but it will be a home game and then theres the fact that the Commodores offense was borderline unstoppable during the seasons second half.
N.C States defense will be healthy but its difficult to imagine that those defenders and their coaches will be completely focused.
LUKE: I like the Wolfpack here. This team had high expectations coming into the season and showed against Florida State they were justified, but played poorly enough over the rest of the schedule to get Tom OBrien fired.
The Wolfpack has one chance to prove its a better team than it showed against Tennessee and Clemson and Virginia and so on, and Mike Glennon will want to go out of his college career and go into the NFL draft on a high note.
TUDOR: Then, theres the James Franklin factor. Hell want to impress his pal Debbie Yow.
LUKE: I imagine some of the N.C. State players and outgoing coaches would have similar, but different, motivation.
TUDOR: Lets hope so. If N.C. State does win, maybe OBrien will get a game ball from the players. It would be a nice gesture.
Who wins the national title, Alabama or Notre Dame?
LUKE: Duke coach David Cutcliffe talked before the season about how SEC teams play in this kind of environment all the time, giving them an advantage over everyone else in big bowls. Notre Dame, a sellout every week, home and road, is probably as close as anyone else gets, but no team and no coach knows this routine better than Alabama and Nick Saban.
It took a Heisman Trophy-winning performance to beat the Crimson Tide this season. Roll Tide.
TUDOR: This might sound somewhat stupid, but I think Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame defensive coaches were pulling for Alabama to beat Georgia in the SEC title game.
If you take into account that the Irish defense has been more consistent than the teams offense, its likely that Kelly would prefer to devise a game plan against Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron than Georgias Aaron Murray.
Alabamas ground game is the best in the country, but the Irish defend the run better than anyone. Give me the gold hats.
Will Duke be the only ACC team to win its bowl?
TUDOR: Thats not out of the question even though Cincinnati (9-3) is a heavy favorite in Charlottes Belk game. But the coaching change should be a distraction for the Bearcats while Dukes often humbled defense has had time to mend and regroup.
The Blue Devils havent won a bowl game since the 1961 team beat Arkansas in the Cotton. Its time for one for the ages.
LUKE: The five FBS teams Duke beat had a combined record of 24-36. The six FBS teams Duke lost to had a combined record of 44-19. The Blue Devils showed they could beat inferior teams, and probably should have beaten Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech; the only superior team they beat was North Carolina.
Im on the record picking N.C. State, and Florida State should overpower Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. Clemson will struggle against LSU and Georgia Tech has yet to win a bowl game under Paul Johnson. Virginia Tech (vs. Rutgers) and Duke might be the swing votes on whether the ACC is above or below .500.
TUDOR: Florida State should win. But if Northern Illinois can find a way to keep it close entering the fourth quarter, the Seminoles might panic again.
Virginia Tech should be desperate to avoid a 6-7 finish, but the Big East was better than the ACC in regular season. If the ACC could get out with three wins and three losses, itd be an overachievement.
Should departing coaches stay with their teams for bowl games?
LUKE: Its a sentimental thought, but not a realistic one. Once the ties are cut, theyre cut. Time for everyone to move on. And from a practical standpoint, a school that just paid millions to hire a coach wants him learning the landscape and putting together a staff, not getting his old team ready for the Motor City Bowl.
N.C. State wants Dave Doeren in Raleigh building a program that can reach the Orange Bowl, not coaching Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.
TUDOR: I think theres a cop-out factor involved.
Coaches who are jumping schools dont want to lose a game while theyre trying to impress committed recruits to his new school, nor do the coaches want to take a loss in a bowl that the knows his new schools fans will be watching closely.
Coaches drive their players like rental cars from August through November, then up and leave just when the players are in position to have some fun and maybe win a bowl game as a reward for their sweat, work and pain.
At best, its hypocritical.
Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl: Good or bad for the ACC?
TUDOR: Its bad for the ACC but great for college football in general and Northern Illinois specifically.
While Florida State is in a no-win situation particularly considering the locale a win or even a competitive performance by the Huskies would strike a mighty blow for the sports little guys.
The small-tent mentality by the power conferences has made those leagues rich beyond reason but its always been unfair and possibly illegal.
LUKE: Northern Illinois is a talented team, as evidenced by the fact that N.C. State scrambled to hire Doeren before anyone else could. There are no gimmes in bowl games.
Given that the ACC is 2-13 in BCS games, though, getting an opponent from outside the power conferences gives Florida State the best chance to post a desperately needed BCS win for the ACC.
DeCock: email@example.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947 Tudor: firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 829-8946