ACC bowl season recap: COVID-19 cancelations scar a once-promising postseason
The ACC’s 2021 bowl season is in the books.
The conference was initially set to feature in 10 bowl games this postseason and was favored to win in 7 of them. However, only 6 of the games happened due to COVID-19 cancelations.
Virginia, Boston College and Miami had to withdraw from their respective bowls due to COVID-19. NC State wasn’t able to play in the Holiday bowl because of an outbreak at UCLA.
The ACC finished with a 2-4 record in the bowl games it was able to play. Here’s a quick recap of the ACC’s bowl season:
Air Force def. Louisville 31-28 in First Responder Bowl
Air Force’s passing game proved to be the difference in this game. The Falcons caught Louisville off guard with a healthy dose of Haaziq Daniels in the passing game as he threw for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Air Force was also able to contain Malik Cunningham, who threw for 27 yards and rushed for 63 yards. He was solid, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Falcons’ big plays in the passing game.
Maryland def. Virginia Tech 54-10 in Pinstripe Bowl
This game turned out to be a complete mismatch. The Hokies were underdogs coming in, but they didn’t really put up much of a fight vs. Maryland. Without starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister (transfer) and star receiver Tré Turner (NFL Draft), Virginia Tech just didn’t have a chance offensively. Maryland took full advantage of a depleted Virginia Tech team.
Clemson def. Iowa State 20-13 in Cheez-It Bowl
Clemson earned the ACC’s first win of bowl season with a relatively comfortable win over Iowa State. The Tigers continued their offensive struggles in this game, but a Mario Goodrich pick 6 in the third quarter proved to be the difference.
If there was a bright spot offensively, it was the use of young skill position players who should be primed for a bigger role next season. Will Shipley, Kobe Pace, Dacari Collins and Beaux Collins all made a big impact vs. the Cyclones.
South Carolina def. North Carolina 38-21 in Mayo Bowl
This is arguably the most disappointing result of the ACC’s bowl season. The Tar Heels entered this game as double-digit favorites, but it was the Gamecocks who controlled the game from start to finish.
South Carolina jumped out to an 18-0 lead and North Carolina was never able to seriously threaten a comeback. Sam Howell threw for 205 yards in what was likely his final game in a Tar Heels uniform.
Michigan State def. Pittsburgh 31-21 in Peach Bowl
Without Kenny Pickett, the Panthers were underdogs going into the ACC’s lone New Year’s 6 bowl game. Then they lost backup quarterback Nick Patti after the second drive of the game to an injury. Still, the Panthers had a chance late in the fourth quarter to pull off the upset.
Instead, Michigan State’s offense took over in the fourth quarter and scored 21 unanswered points. It’s a disappointing result for a Pitt team that was the ACC’s best program in 2021.
Wake Forest def. Rutgers 38-10 in Gator Bowl
Wake Forest took advantage of its opportunity in the Gator Bowl. After Texas A&M had to bow out due to COVID-19, Rutgers stepped in as a replacement opponent. The Scarlet Knights were underprepared, but battled through this game for most of the first half.
But after the break, Wake Forest took over. The Demon Deacons out-scored Rutgers 18-0 in the second half thanks to a big effort from quarterback Sam Hartman and receiver A.T. Perry. The result is the second 11-win season in Wake Forest history and the first since 2006.