The ACC went 0-for-bowl season, an inglorious achievement one television analyst referred to as a “Blutarsky,” a tribute to the 0.0 grade-point average posted by John Belushi’s character in the movie “Animal House.”
North Carolina, NC State and Wake Forest did their part to contribute to the frustration by losing their respective games.
The Tar Heels faded late in dropping a 41-27 decision to Texas A&M at the Orange Bowl, the Wolfpack fell victim to its own mistakes in a 23-21 defeat at the hands of Kentucky in the Gator Bowl, while the Deacons were beaten 42-28 by Wisconsin in the newly renamed Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
Appalachian State was the only North Carolina team to win this postseason, salvaging a little pride with an impressive 56-28 rout of North Texas in the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl.
Despite the disappointing results, the 2020 bowl experience wasn’t a total loss for state schools.
It was a success in that all four made it this far despite challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. It also provided coaches and fans with an opportunity to look ahead at what to expect from their teams heading into the new year.
Here is some of what we learned.
The Tar Heels received plenty of preseason love in 2020, and while they came up a little short of those lofty expectations, the bar figures to be set even higher entering 2021 based on its performance in Miami.
Despite four star players opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft — including 1,000-yard rushers Michael Carter Jr. and Javonte Williams — coach Mack Brown’s team played on even terms with the fifth-ranked Aggies for more than three quarters. UNC led 27-20 with 13:51 remaining and was tied with under four minutes to go before A&M pulled away.
Quarterback Sam Howell, in particular, raised his stock by throwing for 234 yards and three touchdowns. With Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence projected as the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, Howell’s strong effort catapulted him to the head of the class as the ACC’s top passer and a legitimate 2021 Heisman Trophy contender.
Lawrence’s departure and its effect on his team could also potentially leave the door open for a challenger to break the Tigers’ stranglehold on the ACC championship. The Tar Heels could find themselves in position to be that challenger if they can find replacements for Carter and Williams, and their defense continues the improvement it’s shown in the first two seasons under coordinator Jay Bateman.
The Wolfpack also played without four key players, all on the defensive side of the ball, and it led to Kentucky rolling up 281 yards on the ground. It was a series of self-inflicted mistakes on offense, however, that contributed most to State’s demise in Jacksonville.
Quarterback Bailey Hockman threw three interceptions and usually reliable kicker Christopher Dunn missed a pair of field goals to derail the Wolfpack’s chances in a contentious game marred by multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on both teams.
Coach Dave Doeren’s team may have lost the game — a major disappointment considering its opponent had a losing record — but it will avoid a quarterback controversy heading into 2021 with starter Devin Leary set to return from the broken leg that sidelined him for the final seven games and Hockman entering the transfer portal.
The performances of young defensive replacements — including true freshman tackle Davin Vann, who saw his most extensive playing time in place of All-American opt-out Alim McNeill — only add to the optimism created by an otherwise successful eight-win season.
The Deacons got off to a strong start in Charlotte by scoring two quick touchdowns for a 14-0 lead and were tied at halftime, but Wake was outscored 28-0 by the Badgers over the final two quarters.
Although Wake’s second-half collapse can be directly traced to the four interceptions thrown by quarterback Sam Hartman, who was only picked off once during the entire regular season, a contributing factor could also have been the team’s inactivity over the past month.
The Deacons had three games canceled because of COVID-19 issues and played only once after Nov. 14 (a loss to Louisville), factors that could have led to them getting worn down against a physical Wisconsin running game.
The Mountaineers may have had their streak of four straight Sun Belt Conference championships snapped this season, but they still managed to extend their string of bowl victories to six with a dominating performance against North Texas.
App State is now 6-0 all-time in bowl games as an FBS member.
While the win against the Mean Green figures to be the swan song for several seniors that played major roles in the program’s rise to prominence in college football’s top subdivision, including quarterback Zac Thomas, it also served as a springboard for new stars such as running back Camerun Peoples — who rushed for a bowl-record 319 yards and five touchdowns.
With the stability of coach Shawn Clark returning for a second season — the first time that’s happened in three years — and the addition of former Duke and Clemson quarterback Chase Brice as a graduate transfer, App State figures to be right back in the Sun Belt title conversation in 2021.