At some point during every bowl game ESPN televises, which means most of them, a graphic will be shown documenting the postseason record of every conference.

It’s a meaningless stat considering the wide range of variables in play, including matchups, injuries, opt-outs and other factors.

Just ask Mike Norvell and Florida State.

And yet, the results of the “Capital One Bowl Challenge” will inevitably be hailed by some as a definitive statement on the strengths or weaknesses of the various leagues. For the record, the ACC finished with a 5-6 mark in its 11 bowl games. Not great. Not terrible.

Of greater significance is the fact that the league had 10 teams finish with winning records. It’s only the 2nd time in the past decade that’s happened and the 1st time since 11 did it in 2016.

Now that all the games are in the book and the new year is upon us, here’s a look back at the best and worst of the ACC’s busy bowl season:

Biggest ‘What if’

Florida State’s opt-outs: Interpret the Seminoles’ 63-3 Orange Bowl shellacking at the hands of Georgia any way you like. And needless to say, it’s been interpreted several different ways on social media depending on your allegiances.

But it’s an indisputable fact that the game would have played out significantly different had the Seminoles not had 15 starters and several others opt out after being snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee.

Would FSU have beaten Georgia had it had its full complement of players, minus quarterback Jordan Travis? How would it have fared had it received the Playoff bid it earned by going undefeated and winning the ACC championship?

We’ll never know the answer to either question.

Best offensive performance

Virginia Tech: The weather in Annapolis for the Military Bowl wasn’t conducive to big offensive numbers. But that’s what made the Hokies’ performance in their 41-20 win against Tulane all the more impressive.

Quarterback Kyron Drones and running back Bhayshul Tuten put on a clinic by combining for 312 yards on the ground in leading Tech to its first postseason victory since the 2016 Belk Bowl. Drones earned game MVP honors by rushing for 176 yards and a touchdown. The transfer from Baylor also threw for 91 yards and 2 scores. Tuten, meanwhile, added 136 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The Hokies averaged better than 7 yards per carry on their 50 rushing attempts on the way to clinching a winning record in coach Brent Pry’s 2nd season with the program.

Biggest overreaction

Hokies hype: Virginia Tech’s performance was so impressive that even before the game was over, folks on social media were proclaiming the Hokies a legitimate challenger for the ACC championship next season.

There’s no question that they made significant progress this season. And with virtually everyone of significance coming back, including Drones, Tuten and sacks leader Antwaun Ryland-Powell, they’re going to be one of the most experienced teams in the league.

But let’s pump the brakes on the title talk.

As good as Tech was, its opponent Tulane was playing without its star quarterback and top 3 receivers, all of whom opted out of the game because of either transfer or NFL Draft prep. And while its 2024 schedule does avoid Florida State and has Clemson coming to Blacksburg, it’s a big jump from 7-6 to a championship.

Just ask Duke.

Worst offensive performance

Syracuse: Yeah, I know. The Orange were down 2 quarterbacks and were led by an interim coach. But even that’s no excuse for the embarrassing effort they put forth in the ACC’s first bowl game of the season. It’s not like they were playing Michigan or Alabama. Their 45-0 shellacking in the Boca Raton Bowl came at the hands 6-6 South Florida.

Syracuse managed only 159 total yards, only 20 of which were on the ground. On 41 attempts. Averaging 0.5 yards per carry. With tight end Dan Villari starting the game under center, the Bulls turned all their attention to stopping the Orange’s only legitimate offensive weapon. In doing so, they held LeQuint Allan to just 2 net yards on 20 carries.

Villari did attempt 11 passes. But he completed as many passes to the other team as he did his own, going 4-of-11 for 55 yards. Nunzio Campanile eventually gave an actual quarterback a shot and freshman Braden Davis completed 6-of-13 for 84 yards.

But the only time it came close to scoring was when a defensive touchdown by Alijah Clark was nullified by an illegal block. Four plays later, the Orange attempted a field that was blocked and returned for a 64-yard score by the Bulls.

Best defensive performance

Boston College: It figured to be a mismatch. SMU came into the Fenway Bowl ranked among the top 6 nationally in scoring at 40.6 points per game and Boston was 12th out of 14 ACC teams in scoring defense, surrendering an average of 28.3.

As it turned out, the game was a mismatch. Only in reverse.

The Eagles had a little help from the monsoon-like conditions and the fact that the usually high-octane Mustangs were playing without starting quarterback Preston Stone, who suffered a broken leg in the final regular season game against Navy. But Kevin Jennings did lead the soon-to-be ACC member to a win in the American Athletic Conference championship game and he did play well while accounting for 242 yards of total offense (191 passing, 51 rushing).

No matter what the circumstances, it was BC’s best defensive effort of the season in limiting SMU to a pair of 2nd quarter touchdowns in a 23-14 win.

Worst defensive performance

Louisville: A Cardinals defense that was among the ACC’s best figured to have caught a break when 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams opted out of their Holiday Bowl matchup to prepare for the NFL Draft. But then they made USC backup Miller Moss look like a Heisman winner.

The sophomore quarterback, who had thrown only 3 touchdown passes in 11 career games, doubled that total in 1 game against Louisville, leading the Trojans to a 42-28 win. Moss torched the Cardinals for 372 yards and a Holiday Bowl-record 6 scoring passes in his 1st career start.

Louisville came into the game allowing an average of only 21 points and 217 passing yards per game. It also ranked 3rd in the ACC with 34 sacks, but didn’t get to Moss a single time in losing its 3rd straight after a 10-1 start.

Best farewell performance

Duke’s transfers: With the arrival of new coach Manny Diaz, the Blue Devils will be undergoing many changes between now and the start of next season. But for 1 last game, they had a familiar look against Troy in the Birmingham Bowl. (Well, except for the head coach, of course.)

Instead of opting out as most players in the transfer portal do these days, running back Jordan Waters, defensive tackle Aeneas Peebles and safety Jaylen Stinson suited up “to finish what they started” and end the season – and their Duke careers – with a win.

When the new semester begins next month, Waters will move down Interstate 40 to NC State. Peebles will be a member of the team at another ACC rival, Virginia Tech. But you would never have known it watching them battle for a common cause on Saturday.

Waters averaged 6 yards per carry while gaining 66 yards on 11 tries against Troy. Peebles had a sack and 2 quarterback hurries to go along with 4 tackles while Stinson, who has yet to announce his future destination, was the Blue Devils’ 2nd-leading tackler with 6, while also breaking up a pass.

Even interim coach Trooper Taylor, who will also be leaving soon to rejoin Mike Elko at Texas A&M, also stuck around and was genuinely choked up while talking about Duke and its players during the postgame celebration of their 17-10 win.

Best postgame comment

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key: Key had a lot to be happy about after his team’s 30-17 victory against UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl. Not only did the Yellow Jackets roar back from an early 17-3 deficit to score 27 unanswered points and win the game going away, they also clinched the program’s first winning record since 2016 in his first full season as a head coach.

To say that Key was excited about the victory would be an understatement. But even in the midst of the celebration, the usually understated coach remained focused enough to maintain his brand awareness. When ESPN sideline reporter Taylor Tannebaum mentioned that he smelled like Gatorade during an on-field postgame interview, Key never flinched in quickly correcting her.

“It’s Powerade,” he said. “We’re a Coca-Cola school.”

Best clock management

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: Swinney wasn’t about to let Kentucky use up the rest of the clock, driving for the winning score after Jonathan Weitz banked home a 52-yard field goal to give Clemson a 2-point lead with 4:20 left in Friday’s Gator Bowl.

So in a stroke of coaching genius, he had his defense give up a 72-yard pass on the 1st play of the ensuing series. That put the Wildcats in position to score the go-ahead touchdown with plenty of time remaining for the Tigers to march down the field and win the game on a short run by Phil Mafah with 17 seconds remaining.

OK, so that wasn’t exactly the plan. But that’s how it worked out, allowing Clemson to extend its streak to 13 straight years with at least 1 postseason win. The 38-35 win also allowed the ACC to clinch its head-to-head series against the SEC – something someone should remind Boo Corrigan and his Playoff Committee.

Worst clock management

Mario Cristobal: Who else?

The same guy who lost a game earlier this season by running a play instead of having his quarterback take a knee against Georgia Tech — which sent his team into a downward spiral — messed up again in the Pinstripe Bowl.

This time Cristobal’s clock mismanagement involved his use of timeouts. Or in this case, his decision not to use them. And it happened not once, but twice in the Hurricanes’ 31-24 loss to Rutgers.

In the 1st half, he cost his team points by not using all of his timeouts during a late drive that ended in a short field goal instead of a touchdown with 4 seconds remaining before halftime. Then with his team trailing by 2 touchdowns and the Scarlet Knights eating up more than 7 minutes of the 4th quarter with a sustained drive, Cristobal again chose to save his timeouts.

He eventually called one with 2:40 remaining. But inexplicably, he didn’t call another one – even after his Hurricanes gave themselves a chance to tie the game by scoring a touchdown and recovering the ensuing onside kick. Miami might not have won the game with the extra time that better clock management would have provided. But it would at least have stood a better chance.

Best trick play

NC State’s fake punt: Maybe Kansas State planted the seed by successfully executing a fake punt earlier in the game. Or maybe it was already in Robert Anae’s back of tricks. Whichever it was, the Wolfpack picked the perfect time to run a fake punt of their own.

Facing a 4th-and-6 situation from their own 40, trailing by 8 late in the 3rd quarter of the Pop Tarts Bowl, Trent Pennix took a direct snap out of punt formation and took off running through a gaping hole in the Wildcats’ defense. The underused tight end didn’t just get the 1st down. He went 60 yards all the way to the house.

The touchdown and the execution that helped create it was fun. But because State ended up losing the game 28-19, it was small consolation for not getting to taste the edible pop tarts mascot during the postgame celebration.

Best consolation prize

North Carolina’s Mack Brown: For the 2nd time in as many trips to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl over the past 3 seasons, Brown came away a winner because his Tar Heels lost the game. Had they won, he’d have gotten a celebratory vat of mayonnaise dumped over his head. Instead that “honor” went to West Virginia’s Neal Brown after his team’s 30-10 win at Bank of America Stadium.

It didn’t take long for the Tar Heels to let their coach know he’d be able to hold the mayo. They gave up a 75-yard touchdown pass on the 1st play of the game and trailed the rest of the way.

The result was nothing if not predictable. UNC was without many of their top players, including quarterback Drake Maye, top receiver Tez Walker and All-ACC linebacker Cedric Gray. But that’s not the only reason.

Getting to bowl games hasn’t been a problem for Brown in his 2nd tenure at UNC. Winning them, however, has been a lot more difficult. The loss to West Virginia was the Tar Heels’ 4th straight since a Military Bowl victory in 2019.