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2011-12 ACC Pick’Em: Sugar & Orange

With my day job, I’m live in Miami, which turns out to be a lot of work (and some play) – either way, my keys to the ACC BCS bowls were published in Southern Pigskin…

Sugar: Jan. 3 – Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Michigan (10-2), 8:30 ET

Will Virginia Tech play like they deserve this bowl game?

That’s the critical question, after its BCS bowl bid was highly-questioned in the wake of a 38-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.

No matter who deserves it – we could be in store for a good one between Michigan’s rushing attack, fueled by junior quarterback Denard Robinson, and Virginia Tech’s running game of its own, anchored by junior running back David Wilson.

Robinson rushed for 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns – passed for 2,056 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season. He was joined in the 1,000 yard rusher club by junior RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (1,098 yards), who punched in 10 scores as well.

The Wolverines started and finished strong this season – taking six-straight to open it up and wins over three bowl teams down the stretch (at Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State).

If it wasn’t for Clemson, I guess Virginia Tech would be undefeated – losing 23-3 in Blacksburg and 38-10 in Charlotte to the Tigers. The constant in the two losses was Clemson just dominating the Hokies’ offensive line, first, in the second half of game one, and the whole game in part two.

While we’re dwelling on the negative, we’d be remiss to not mention Virginia Tech’s last BCS stint, a 40-12 loss to Stanford in the Orange Bowl in 2010. The Hokies had no running game to speak of (34 carries for 66 yards) , and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck eviscerated the defense for 4 touchdown passes and running backs Stepfan Taylor/Jeremy Stewart combined for 213 rushing yards in the blowout.

Hokies wide receiver Danny Coale talked at ACC media days this July about that loss: “Sure, you sit back and thinks sometimes – what happened? But then you remember that’s a great team. We just simply didn’t play well enough. It’s embarrassing when you lose and you’re representing the ACC in a big-time game like that.”

Coale and the Hokies, though not in the ACC’s champion bowl, get another shot in New Orleans on Tuesday to prove skeptics wrong this season and uphold the conference reputation.

Michigan’s defensive prowess isn’t encouraging for that cause though – 6th in passing defense and 35th in rushing defense against some solid competition. If the Hokies can channel what they got offensively and defensively against Virginia (38-0 win), they win, pure and simple, but I need to see the Hokies do it on this stage before I pick it.

Pick: Michigan 27-21

Orange: Jan. 4 – Clemson (10-3) vs. West Virginia (9-3), 8:30 ET

There will be points.

Both the ACC and Big East champs feature newly-installed spread-‘em-out and pick-‘em-apart offenses, but from different branches of the scheme.

Clemson’s attack is run-centered, inspired by Gus Malzahn, but with Chad Morris’ spin on it.

West Virginia’s is all about the passing game, inspired by Mike Leach/Hal Mumme under head coach Dana Holgorsen – quarterback Geno Smith averaging 40.25 attempts for 331.5 yards per game with 25 touchdowns to 7 interceptions this season.

Still developing the o-line and armed with weapons like freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, the Tigers chucked it around the field quite a bit this season too – breaking single-season school records for passing yards (284.77), total offense (440.62) and points (33.62) per game.

West Virginia punched its ticket to Miami by way of a three-way tie in the Big East – ranking highest in the BCS of the three (Cincinnati and Louisville the others).

Clemson started 8-0, but stumbled into the ACC Championship Game with three losses in four games. But their odd dominance over Virginia Tech continued in the ACC Championship Game after a 23-3 win in Blacksburg earlier this season – forcing an early turnover and rolling downhill all game to a 38-10 blowout victory.

The Mountaineers will show a different look defensively than Clemson has seen this season with a 3-3-5 formation (27th nationally in total defense). Tigers struggled down the stretch with teams dropping more into coverage and forcing quarterback Tajh Boyd to pick them apart (in part, due to his o-line struggling with holding down the opposing d-line with injuries). WVU’s Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller could both give Clemson some struggles in the pass rush.

The Tigers have, on the whole, contained the passing game, but still were quite susceptible to the big play. West Virginia will test that – twin 1,000 yard receivers (Stedman Bailey, 1,197 yards/11 TDs and Tavon Austin, 1,063 yards/4 TDs), and an offense that hit nine different targets in a game five times this season.

What we saw with Clemson this season is if they can protect Boyd and limit turnovers – the points will come. They’re facing one of the more impressive offenses nationally, but best v. best, I give a slight edge to the Tigers.

I tend to think both will start a little slow – doing a bit too much, but once the game settles down, the offenses will find their footing and make this an entertaining game. Clemson just makes a couple more plays to pull it out.

Pick: Clemson 34-31

Rest of the staff picks: J.J. Greenstein – Virginia Tech 28-26, Clemson 31-20; Griffin Wong – Michigan 31-27, Clemson 38-34.

(ACC Pick’em on the season: Brandon Rink – 71-32, J.J. Greenstein – 73-30, Griffin Wong – 75-28)

ATS Section (42-43-2 to date)

New Year’s Eve was forgettable for the ACC/my picks – one last gasp in the BCS bowls…

Michigan -3 vs. Virginia Tech

Take to Bank %: 10%

Clemson -3 vs. WVU

Take to Bank %: 15%

Check us out live in Miami for the Orange Bowl both at @accblogger on Twitter and OrangeandWhite.com for a live chat during the game!

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