The college football season came to an end early Tuesday morning with the Clemson Tigers stopping the Alabama freight train in an instant classic. As has been dissected across the college football media landscape, Clemson’s win capped an all-time great bowl season for the ACC. The conference laid to rest many of it’s doubters and claimed the crown of best conference in the country for the 2016 season. Will the ACC be able to carry that momentum forward into the 2017 season? That’s a worry for another day. Today, let’s take one last look at 2016 and there’s no better place to start than with the champs.
1 - Clemson Tigers (14-1, 7-1) LW: 1, Preseason: 1
Clemson capped off their dream season by proving without a doubt they are the best team in the country. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, the Tigers drove the field three times against one of the best defenses in recent years to score three touchdowns and win the game. This has been a really special two year run for Clemson and it’s fitting they were able to end it with a ring.
Bowl Results: defeated Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl, defeated Alabama 35-31 in the National Championship Game
2 - Florida State Seminoles (10-3, 5-3) LW: 2, Preseason: 2
In one of the best bowl games of the year, Florida State came from behind in the final minute to defeat Michigan and notch a huge bowl win. Star RB Dalvin Cook capped off his college career with a monster 207-yard performance and WR Nyqwan Murray found the endzone on both of his touches, including the game-winner. A win in a New Year’s Six bowl is a really fantastic finish to a season that could have easily gone in another direction after opening conference play 0-2.
Bowl Result: defeated Michigan 33-32 in the Orange Bowl
3 - Virginia Tech Hokies (10-4, 6-2) LW: 4, Preseason: 7
It looked dire at halftime, but the Hokies stormed back in the second half to win the Belk Bowl in one of the craziest comebacks in college football history. Virginia Tech’s offense was listless in the first half and their defense couldn’t stop Arkansas as the Razorbacks built a 24-0 lead. The script was completely flipped as Jerod Evans scored four touchdowns and led his team all the way back. The 24-point comeback was the largest in school history and gave Justin Fuente 10 wins in his first season as head coach.
Bowl Result: defeated Arkansas 35-24 in the Belk Bowl
4 - Miami Hurricanes (9-4, 5-3) LW: 5, Preseason: 6
In his final collegiate game, Brad Kaaya was excellent, throwing for 4 touchdowns on 71% passing to lead his Hurricanes to a big win over a ranked West Virginia team. The Hurricanes finished the season strong, winning their final five games by at least 14 points after a midseason swoon.
Bowl Result: defeated West Virginia 31-14 in the Russell Athletic Bowl
5 - Louisville Cardinals (9-4, 7-1) LW: 3, Preseason: 3
The opposite of Miami, Louisville lost their final three games to put a sour end to what could have been one of the best seasons in program history. The Citrus Bowl loss to LSU was particularly embarrassing as the Cardinals hardly bothered to show up. Hyped up as one of the premier bowl games, LSU stuffed Louisville and Heisman-winning QB Lamar Jackson, holding them to only 67 yards rushing and out of the end zone completely.
Bowl Result: lost to LSU 9-29 in the Citrus Bowl
6 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-4, 4-4) LW: 8, Preseason: 8
The Yellow Jackets are another team that ended the season on a strong note. Over the second half of the season, the Jackets went 6-1, including road wins against rivals Virginia Tech and georgia. While the TaxSlayer Bowl was the last game for seniors such as Justin Thomas, true freshmen BB Dedrick Mill’s huge performance showed that Tech has a bright future.
Bowl Result: defeated Kentucky 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl
7 - Pittsburgh Panthers (8-5, 5-3) LW: 6, Preseason: 4
Pitt continued their up-and-down season with a bad loss to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl. To be fair to the Panthers, starting QB Nathan Peterman, who somewhat quietly had a really good senior season, and star RB James Conner were both hurt in the game, but the Panthers still had a lead late. Yet again, it was the defense letting the Panthers down. Pitt gave up 462 yards and allowed the Wildcats to convert on 13 of 19 third down situations (9-19 on 3rd down, 4-4 on 4th down).
Bowl Result: lost to Northwestern 24-31 in the Pinstripe Bowl
8 - North Carolina State Wolfpack (7-6, 3-5) LW: 9, Preseason: 9
The Wolfpack are yet another team that finished the season on a strong note, winning 3 of their final 4 to not only get to a bowl game, but finish with a winning record. The star of the Independence Bowl was junior TE Jaylen Samuels. The do-it-all star had three receiving touchdowns and 113 total yards. At first glance, I didn’t have the Pack ahead of UNC, but given the head-to-head win in the last week of the season and the opposite directions the two teams went late in the year, I nudged State ahead.
Bowl Result: defeated Vanderbilt 41-17 in the Independence Bowl
9 - North Carolina Tar Heels (8-5, 5-3) LW: 7, Preseason: 5
After routing Georgia Tech early in November, UNC looked primed to end the season in a big way, but fell apart down the stretch, losing their final 3 games against FBS competition. There’s no shame in losing to a team like Stanford but it’s hardly the way the Heels wanted to end the season, especially with stars like QB Mitch Trubisky, RB Elijah Hood, and WR Ryan Switzer departing for the NFL.
Bowl Result: lost to Stanford 23-25 in the Sun Bowl
10 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-6, 3-5) LW: 10, Preseason: 14
With the WakeyLeaks scandal swiriling around them, the Deacons rallied together to beat AAC Champion Temple and secure their first winning season since 2008. QB John Wolford was efficient, going 10-19 for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns before leaving the game with an injury in the third quarter. A 7-6 record might not look like much, but it’s a big step forward for Wake. They were the team I was the most wrong about in the preseason, where I said “Wake Forest is the only team in the ACC in which I cannot envision a scenario where they end the season in a bowl game.” Sorry, Deacs.
Bowl Result: defeated Temple 34-26 in the Military Bowl
11 - Boston College Eagles (7-6, 2-6) LW: 12, Preseason: 13
Call me stubborn, but despite finishing with a bowl win against a Power 5 team, I still don’t think Boston College was a good team this season. I strongly considered keeping them behind Duke in these final power rankings, but I will give them some credit for finding some way to get a winning record. In their bowl game, QB Patrick Towles had a big day, throwing for two TD passes and catching another but it was the defense that forced a turnover on downs to halt a late Terrapin rally and seal the win.
Bowl Result: defeated Maryland 36-30 in the Quick Lane Bowl
12 - Duke Blue Devils (4-8, 1-7) LW: 11, Preseason: 10
13 - Syracuse Orange (4-8, 2-6) LW: 13, Preseason: 11
14 - Virginia Cavaliers (2-10, 1-7) LW: 14, Preseason: 12