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Ranking the Watchability of the ACC's Bowl Games in 2016

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

The ACC had a strong regular season that culminated in Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman Trophy.

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All the way through, there were compelling matchups, as Clemson has carried the flag once again for the ACC and made the College Football Playoff. At the very top of the league, one can make the argument that the ACC was second only to the Big Ten in terms of high-quality teams.

As bowl season gets underway, there are a few absolutely must-see games and a few duds, but the best ones overshadow the lesser games. The top-end ACC-involved matchups are three of the most enticing ones of the entire nationwide slate.

Related: Ranking All 40 College Football Bowls for 2016 From Must-See to Must-Miss

Bowl Watchability Rankings by Power Five Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

Note: All times are ET.

1. Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State (11-1) vs. Clemson (21-1)

Dec. 31 – 7 p.m., ESPN

The last time these teams met in the 2014 Orange Bowl, Clemson earned a 40-35 win over the Buckeyes in a game that really helped launch the Tigers into their current stratosphere of the college football elite. The stakes are higher this time around as the winner goes to the championship of the College Football Playoff, but this should be a competitive and entertaining take between two of the game's giants.

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Related: 5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the College Football Playoff

2. Orange Bowl – Michigan (10-2) vs. Florida State (9-3)

Dec. 30 – 8 p.m., ESPN

At the beginning of the year, it would not have been out of the norm to see this game projected as a semifinal in the College Football Playoff. Florida State has been playing its best football of the season down the stretch and Michigan was literally inches from beating Ohio State. Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook against Michigan's 13th-ranked run defense will be a matchup to watch.

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3. Citrus Bowl – LSU (7-4) vs. Louisville (9-3)

Dec. 31 – 11 a.m., ABC

This could very well end up being number one by the time all is said and done. The Cardinals sport the Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson and the top-ranked scoring offense in the country. LSU's Leonard Fournette at this point is expected to play in what should be his last college game. The Tigers will pit their sixth-ranked scoring defense against Louisville’s offensive juggernaut.

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4. Sun Bowl – Stanford (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)

Dec. 30 – 2 p.m., CBS

These are a pair of teams that had diametrically opposed stretch runs. North Carolina stumbled with a pair of losses over the second half of the season when it had a chance to repeat as ACC Coastal Division champion. This game will feature Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a rising NFL draft prospect still in his junior year, and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who will be playing his last college game to cap a brilliant career.

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5. Belk Bowl – Arkansas (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (9-4)

Dec. 29 – 5:30 p.m., ESPN

This will be a chance for Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente to put a bow on his successful maiden voyage in Blacksburg against an Arkansas team that always seems to play its best football at the end of the season under Bret Bielema. Hokies quarterback Jerod Evans has made an immediate impact this season, while Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams III is one of the top running backs in the nation.

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6. Russell Athletic Bowl – West Virginia (10-2) vs. Miami (8-4)

Dec. 28 – 5:30 p.m., ESPN

This game holds some interest because West Virginia has had a resurgent season, resulting in a nice contract extension for head coach Dana Holgerson. Perhaps the Mountaineers thought they would be eligible for a bit of a better bowl, but Miami will be no cakewalk. The Hurricanes had somewhat of a mediocre year, but Mark Richt has a chance to build some momentum in his first year leading his alma mater.

College Football Top 25: Miami

7. Pinstripe Bowl – Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Dec. 28 – 2 p.m., ESPN

Even though Northwestern hasn't exactly had a great year, Pat Fitzgerald is one of the better head coaches in the game who can prepare the Wildcats well for this bowl. Pittsburgh had two high-quality wins in beating Penn State and Clemson, and the Panthers sport one of the top offenses in the country. This also will be the last college game for Pittsburgh running back James Conner, one of the best in the nation.

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8. TaxSlayer Bowl – Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

Dec. 31 – 11 a.m., ESPN

This one gained a little more juice when Kentucky shockingly knocked off Louisville at the end of the regular season, which makes the Wildcats a little more of a wild card in this game. Georgia Tech is bowling again after bouncing back from last season's 3-8 showing. Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas has had a stellar career and has the chance to top it off in style.

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9. Independence Bowl – NC State (6-6) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6)

Dec. 26 – 5 p.m., ESPN2

Like Kentucky, Vanderbilt comes into this game riding high off an upset, as the Commodores stunned Tennessee on the last game of the regular season. NC State's season might best be remembered for the upset it did not finish in its overtime loss to Clemson, but a victory over North Carolina was a nice consolation prize. This one may come down to which team stops the run more effectively.

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10. Military Bowl – Temple (10-3) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)

Dec. 27 – 3:30 p.m., ESPN

The Owls have had one of the best seasons out of the teams from the Group of Five conferences, but the departure of head coach Matt Rhule to Baylor over the last week will somewhat diminish this one. When a team loses its coach right before the bowl game, it simply takes some steam away from the matchup. Either way, Wake Forest will be motivated to win the program's first bowl win since the 2008 EagleBank Bowl over Navy.

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11. Quick Lane Bowl – Maryland (6-6) vs. Boston College (6-6)

Dec. 26 – 2:30 p.m., ESPN

This game is the quintessential example of why some people feel there are too many bowl games, as there really isn't much of a reason for a national audience to tune in here. Boston College was crushed by every good team it played and only reached six wins based on an extremely weak non-conference schedule. Maryland is still in rebuild mode. Eagles head coach Steve Addazio has been on the hot seat all year, so a win here might cool that a bit.

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— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.

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