Luke DeCock

DeCock: This might be a special bowl season after all

It’s just a feeling, a premonition even, but it doesn’t feel like there’s much excitement about bowl season this year. Maybe that’s a function of the way the bowl process shook out, or a statement about how various teams’ seasons went, or an expression of mid-level bowl fatigue. It shouldn’t be that way.

Duke, after all, is going to a bowl game for the third straight season. Some of the novelty has worn off, especially when Blue Devils fans had visions of another ACC championship bid dashed with dismal home losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina, then ended up in El Paso, Texas, instead of Yankee Stadium.

N.C. State unquestionably overachieved at 7-5, and the football team was appropriately applauded at the basketball game Wednesday night, but the Wolfpack was borderline unwatchable at times and the fan base was geared up for a bowl trip to Charlotte only to end up in St. Petersburg, Fla., instead.

East Carolina beat North Carolina and Virginia Tech, then imploded. And North Carolina was so bad at times, especially against the Pirates, that the defensive coordinator was encouraged to seek work elsewhere – and already has.

There was no ACC Championship Game participant, no CFP bowl bid, not even anyone staying close to home in Charlotte, so it’s easy to understand why bowl season may feel like it’s sliding largely under the radar. Oddly enough, this season’s slate of games may actually be more interesting than in most years.

Duke has a chance to win its first bowl game since 1960, and while the Blue Devils had their sights set on the Pinstripe Bowl, Saturday’s Sun Bowl has a reputation as one of the best-run bowl games for the participants. Not many fans may travel, but the team should enjoy itself. The matchup with 9-3 Arizona State is one of the best of the bowl season, and Duke could still finish 10-3. The mere possibility of a Duke team in double-digit wins for the second straight year should not be underestimated.

It’s been a long season for the Tar Heels. North Carolina fans could be forgiven for feeling like they’d done their duty watching this team play 12 times, but the Tar Heels can still finish with a winning record Friday by beating Rutgers in Detroit, which may not seem all that glamorous a destination but is a pretty solid landing spot for a 6-6 team – direct flights, casinos, indoors, an NFL stadium, a Big Ten opponent. Not too shabby, really.

And N.C. State fans may have been making plans for Charlotte before the CFP committee’s inexplicable final manipulation of the rankings threw the ACC’s bowl order into disarray, but Tampa Bay is a quick flight away and Tropicana Field is a fun and funky place for a football game, as East Carolina fans can attest. (They’ll have something to say about the Wolfpack’s opponent Friday, Central Florida, as well.)

Those poor East Carolina fans may have suffered more than anyone this season watching their Pirates slide from a potential CFP bowl all the way to Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 3 thanks to a dismal loss at Temple, a shootout loss at Cincinnati and a disastrous Senior Night home loss on a final-play Hail Mary to Central Florida. (Even the season-opening loss at South Carolina isn’t as impressive upon reflection.) They’ll still play an SEC team, but it will be a long way from the Peach Bowl. But East Carolina’s specialty is getting fired up to play name brands, and even in this fire-the-coach-bad season, Florida is still one of those.

It’s not the set of bowls that anyone expected before the season, or afterward for that matter. It may end up being more entertaining this way.

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