Florida State coach Mike Norvell put on a happy face Sunday night when he was asked to do a media Zoom conference with Georgia’s Kirby Smart to begin hyping their upcoming Orange Bowl matchup.

It was obvious from the tone in both coaches’ voices that neither is thrilled about playing in the game.

Both would rather have seen their teams meet in the College Football Playoff semifinals, something they would have done had they been able to maintain last week’s rankings.

At least Smart’s Bulldogs dropped from No. 1 to No. 6 by their own hand, losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. The Seminoles, by contrast, had to suffer the indignity of having their No. 4 ranking taken away from them by a committee sitting in a board room in Texas, even though they finished their season as 13-0 ACC champ.

The disappointment Norvell and his players felt on Selection Sunday wasn’t shared by everyone in their conference. There are 10 other ACC teams excited about going bowling and looking forward to their postseason destinations.

Here’s the rundown of where everyone is going and how all the matchups rank in terms of interest and importance:

11. Syracuse vs. South Florida

Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton, Fla.
When – Thursday, Dec. 21 8 pm ET

Two 6-6 teams, one with an interim coach and a quarterback with a bum arm, the other from a Group of 5 conference playing in a location most famous for retirees in a stadium that is likely to be half empty or worse.

Yes, the pageantry of postseason college football will be on display when the Orange and Bulls face off 4 days before Christmas.

But hey, it’s still better than watching Miracle on 34th Street for the zillionth time.


10. Georgia Tech vs. Central Florida

Gasparilla Bowl, Tampa
When – Friday, Dec. 22, 6:30 pm ET

This has the look and feel of a mid-September nonconference game, which it actually was last year. The Knights defeated the Yellow Jackets 27-10 in Orlando last Sept. 24. That, as it turned out, was the final straw that led to the firing of Geoff Collins. Offensive line coach Brent Key was elevated to the job on an interim basis and the program has been on an upward trend since.

Key, now the permanent coach, has led Tech to a 6-6 record and its 1st bowl trip since 2018. He and his Yellow Jackets are a 4.5-point underdog, but should be highly motivated to finish off a turnaround season on a high note. UCF (6-6) will also be trying to finish with a winning record in its 1st season as a member of the Big 12.

Regardless of who wins, this matchup promises to be a high-scoring affair. Both teams are averaging better than 31 points per game while their defenses have among the worst in their respective conferences at stopping the run.

9. Duke vs. Troy

Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, Ala.
When – Saturday, Dec. 23, noon ET

The Blue Devils are a 6.5-point underdog to the Trojans. That’s understandable considering the Duke will be playing with an interim coach following the loss of Mike Elko to Texas A&M, is playing a true freshman 3rd-string quarterback and its opponent is 11-2 with a Sun Belt Conference championship to its credit.

But the Blue Devils (7-5) are hardly chopped liver, even in their current state. Grayson Loftis has started 4 games, thrown for 8 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions and is 2-2 in those games – with one of the losses coming in double overtime to rival North Carolina. He also has one of the ACC’s best rushing attacks to back him.

The problem for Duke could come on defense. Troy enters the game averaging 31 points and is coming off a 49-point explosion in its conference title win against Appalachian State. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, will be without linebacker Dorian Mausi, end Aeneas Peebles and several other starters who have already entered the transfer portal.

8. Virginia Tech vs. Tulane

Military Bowl, Annapolis, Md.
When – Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2 ET

This looked like a mismatch when the pairing was announced. While the Hokies needed a win in their final regular-season game to get to 6-6 and earn bowl eligibility, the Green Wave are 11-2 with their only losses coming to Ole Miss and SMU in the the American Athletic Conference championship game.

The playing field has been leveled somewhat since then, however, with news that Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt, the AAC Offensive Player of the Year, has entered the transfer portal and won’t play. Even without him, Tulane will still have plenty of firepower, led by freshman running back Makhi Hughes, who has rushed for 1,290 yards and 7 touchdowns this season.

Coach Brent Pry’s team received good news in advance of Tech’s 1st bowl appearance since 2019 when star defensive end Antwaun Ryland-Powell, whose 9.5 sacks ranked 2nd in the ACC, announced he plans to return to Blacksburg in 2024.

7. Miami vs. Rutgers

Pinstripe Bowl, Bronx, NY
When – Thursday, Dec. 28, 2:15 ET

Remember when all the bowl games used to be played in warm weather locations in the sunny South? Not anymore, so the Hurricanes better bundle up and dress warmly for a late-December date at Yankee Stadium.

The cold conditions, however, will be the least of Mario Cristobal’s worries when he sends his 7-5 team into battle against the 6-6 Scarlet Knights. With Tyler Van Dyke having entered the transfer portal and Emory Williams sidelined with a broken arm, Miami will be forced into using its only remaining scholarship quarterback, Jacurri Brown.

Brown was redshirted this season and has yet to see action. But he did start 3 games as a true freshman last season, completing 27-of-45 passes for 230 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while rushing for 223 yards on 54 carries.

The matchup is a familiar one and not only because they were both members of the old Big East. Cristobal and Rutgers coach Greg Schiano have twice been members of the same staff – from 1998-2000 at Miami and 2001-03 during Schiano’s first tenure as the Scarlet Knights’ head coach.

6. North Carolina vs. West Virginia

Duke’s Mayo Bowl, Charlotte, NC
When – Thursday, Dec. 28, 5:30 ET

The Tar Heels started the season at Bank America Stadium with a win against South Carolina that vaulted them into the national conversation for the 1st half of the season. They finish the year in the same place as one of the ACC’s biggest disappointments seeing their 6-0 start and No. 10 national ranking dissolve with a string of underachieving performances.

This will mark the 2nd time UNC and West Virginia, both 8-4, will have played in this bowl at this venue. The Mountaineers won an entertaining 31-30 shootout in what was then known as the Meineke Car Care Bowl in 2008.

That’s not the only bit of déjà vu involved.

Two years ago, Sam Howell chose to play his final game for the Tar Heels, rather than opting out to prepare for the draft. This time it’s Drake Maye’s turn to bow out with one final appearance in Carolina blue. He can only hope his farewell will be happier than that of Howell, whose team was beaten by South Carolina. The payoff for a UNC win this time around will be getting to see the reaction of 72-year-old coach Mack Brown as he gets a celebratory vat of mayonnaise dumped over his head.

5. Clemson vs. Kentucky

Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, Fla.
When – Friday, Dec. 29, noon ET

The Tigers (8-4) stumbled out of the gate to an uncharacteristic 4-4 start, but looked more like their usual self in winning their final 4 regular-season games. While the offense was improved thanks to an increased reliance on the running back tandem of Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, defense was the biggest reason for the late surge.

How many members of that unit will still be on the field by the time Dabo Swinney gets his 22nd-ranked team to Jacksonville is still undetermined. Already, starting cornerback Andrew Mukuba has entered the transfer portal while tackle Ruke Orhorhoro has announced his intention to opt out. He’s likely to be only the 1st of several, including star linebackers Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Barrett Carter, that will step aside to concentrate on NFL draft preparations.

Although Kentucky barely slipped into bowl eligibility at 6-6, Clemson will have to be wary of an offense that just hung 38 points on Louisville and the ACC’s top-scoring defense. The Wildcats are led by former NC State quarterback Devin Leary, who has a history against the Tigers – having beaten them in 2021 while throwing for 238 yards and 4 touchdowns.

4. Boston College vs. SMU

Fenway Bowl, Boston
When – Thursday, Dec. 28, 11 am ET

OK, so the matchup itself isn’t exactly a clash of titans. And it doesn’t promise to be very competitive considering that the 24th-ranked Mustangs (11-2) are among the highest-scoring teams in the country at 40.6 points per game, won the AAC and had a legitimate claim to a New Year’s 6 bid while the Eagles (6-6) lost their past 3 games – giving up 45 or more points in 2 of them.

The game will also be an early wakeup call for both teams. But if you’re into the true #GoACC spirit, it’s must-see TV because of the glimpse into the future it provides. Not only will SMU be among the 3 teams joining the conference as part of its Western expansion next year, the Mustangs are scheduled to play BC during the 2024 regular season.

That game will be played in Dallas. This one will be beneath the Green Monster at Fenway Park, which makes it worth the watch no matter what the score.

3. Louisville vs. USC

Holiday Bowl, San Diego, Calif.
When – Wednesday, Dec. 27, 8 pm ET
TV – Fox

The 15th-ranked Cardinals (10-3) had their hearts set on playing in the Orange Bowl as the ACC’s runner-up. But Florida State’s Playoff snub bumped them out of the New Year’s 6. A trip to San Diego to play 7-5 USC isn’t a bad consolation prize, though.

Especially since the Trojans will be without 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who has announced his intention to opt out of the game in preparation for his likely selection as the top overall pick in the NFL Draft.

While facing a backup quarterback didn’t help them much in last Saturday’s conference championship game loss to Florida State, it should be much more of an advantage against an opponent whose defense is allowing 35 points per game, has given up 55 touchdowns and has lost 5 of its last 6. Southern Cal has had particular trouble stopping the run, which should play right into the hands of Louisville’s productive backfield duo of Jawhar Jordan and Isaac Guerendo.

2. NC State vs. Kansas State

Pop Tarts Bowl, Orlando, Fla.
When – Thursday, Dec. 28, 5:45 pm ET

This is 1 of only 2 ACC bowl matchups in which both teams are ranked. It’s also an especially meaningful game for Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack. A win would give them only their 2nd 10-win season in school history. It would also help ease some of the lingering pain from a similar opportunity lost when UCLA canceled their Holiday Bowl game because of a COVID outbreak only hours before kickoff.

The game itself features a classic duel between an explosive offense and one of the ACC’s stingiest defenses. The 25th-ranked Wildcats (8-4) average 38 points per game while No. 18 State (9-3) allows only 27 while ranking 7th nationally with 24 takeaways, Including 17 interceptions.

As good as the Wolfpack have been all season, ACC Defensive Player of the Year Payton Wilson and his teammates were even better during their 5-game winning streak to close out the regular season. They’ve yielded only 15 points per game during that stretch. They’ll be challenged to stop a balanced K-State offense featuring a 1,000-yard rusher in DJ Giddens and quarterback Will Howard, who has thrown for 2,643 yards and 24 touchdowns.

State’s offense has undergone a resurgence since graduate transfer Brennan Armstrong’s return to the lineup and the emergence of conference Freshman of the Year KC Concepcion as a playmaking weapon in both the passing and running game.

1. Florida State vs. Georgia

Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla.
When – Saturday, Dec. 30, 4 pm ET

Who wouldn’t want to spend New Year’s weekend in sunny South Florida? Well, for starters, how about both of these teams? The matchup between the 13-0 Seminoles and the 2-time defending national champion Bulldogs (12-1) is a meaningless consolation prize for the first 2 teams out of the Playoff.

While neither team will have its heart in the game, it will be one of the most watched matchups this season because of the opportunity to see whether FSU really belonged in the Playoff or if Boo Corrigan and his committee did the right thing. Either way, a segment of the viewing audience is going to bombard social media with “I told you so” posts.

But the reality is that the outcome won’t prove anything. First and foremost, it’s still anybody’s guess who will actually be playing. We know Jordan Travis won’t be available. Beyond that, there’s a good chance both teams will be without many other valuable contributors because of opt-outs and the transfer portal.

No matter who plays or what happens, Mike Norvell’s 5th-ranked ACC champions will be in a no-win situation. Though not in the way the Playoff committee, SEC apologists and their accomplices at ESPN would like you to believe. If the Seminoles lose, especially by a wide margin, the spin will be that it’s because they’re no good. If they win, it will be because No. 6 UGA just doesn’t care.

At least it will be good theater.