Taking aim at the Bowl Season

jgiglio@newsobserver.comNovember 3, 2012 

  • Anybody’s guess Joe Giglio’s early November guess, written in pencil: Orange: Florida State Sugar: Clemson Chick-fil-A: Duke Russell Athletic: N.C. State Sun Bowl: Miami Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech

Will Webb will put on two college football games in Charlotte in December, the ACC Championship Game and the Belk Bowl.

Usually by the first week of November, Webb, the executive director of Charlotte Collegiate Football, has a fairly good idea of which ACC teams will be headed his way. But not this year.

“What a crazy year,” Webb said.

Crazy, and not really in a good way, for the ACC and its bowl partners. Unless November is even crazier, the ACC is staring at a postseason with more bowl tie-ins than eligible teams.

The ACC is on track for six bowl eligible teams for nine possible bowl slots. Even with fewer teams, and fewer possibilities, a dartboard would probably render the most accurate bowl projections at this point.

The only given is North Carolina, perhaps the best team in the Coastal Division, can’t play in a bowl game. At 6-3 the Tar Heels have enough wins to qualify in coach Larry Fedora’s first season, but NCAA violations from Butch Davis’ tenure left Fedora with a one-year postseason ban.

You can’t even lock Florida State (8-1) into the Orange Bowl yet, although the Seminoles have the inside track for the Atlantic Division title and would be the favorite against whichever team emerged from the Coastal Division in the ACC title game on Dec. 1 in Charlotte.

After the Orange Bowl, the next five ACC tie-ins are:

1. Chick-fil-A Bowl (Atlanta)

2. Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando, Fla.)

3. Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas)

4. Belk Bowl (Charlotte)

5. Music City Bowl (Nashville)

But (and get used to the qualifiers), just like last year, there’s a possibility the ACC could land a second BCS bid.

Clemson (7-1) could wind up with an at-large spot in the Sugar Bowl. That’s a realistic scenario if the Tigers can finish strong, which would almost have to include a home win over South Carolina on Nov. 24.

Clemson’s BCS fate is also tied to Boise State, the perennial BCS buster. The Broncos get an automatic BCS bid if they finish ahead of the Big Ten champion and in the top 16 of the final BCS standings. Boise State is No. 19 in this week’s BCS rankings, one spot ahead of Nebraska, the highest-rated Big Ten team.

Two ACC teams in BCS bowls would move Duke (6-3), N.C. State (5-3) and Miami (5-4) up the ACC bowl order.

Duke doesn’t know where it will go bowling, but it has already taken the unusual step of pre-selling tickets. Given Duke hasn’t been to a bowl game since the 1994 season, the Blue Devils will be attractive for bowl representatives. Duke, 3-2 in the ACC, still has games against Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami and is in position to win the Coastal Division.

Webb has been lucky to get an in-state draw six times in 10 years for the Belk Bowl (plus nearby Clemson in 2010). If the Blue Devils were available, Webb said they would be near the top of his bowl’s list.

“You want a team that’s excited to be in a bowl game,” Webb said. “And with Duke, they are also an interesting story.”

But Charlotte might not get a chance to take Duke or N.C. State. The Wolfpack needs one more win to qualify but still has home games with Virginia (2-6), Wake Forest (4-4) and Boston College (2-6).

The trip to Clemson, on Nov. 17, might ultimately determine the Wolfpack’s fate. Under the ACC’s “one-win,” rule, if N.C. State finished 6-2 in the ACC, it could not be jumped by 4-4 teams in the conference bowl order. At 5-3, the Pack could be replaced by an 4-4 teams.

“You want to keep winning,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said. “That’s the goal right now. At the end of the year, we’ll figure out how many we got and where we are going to go from there.”

The ACC will have plenty of options for the Wolfpack, which played in Charlotte last year, or the Blue Devils.

Wake Forest (4-4), Maryland (4-4) need two wins each, against a tough schedule, to qualify for a bowl. Virginia Tech (4-5) also needs two wins but after facing Florida State next week, ends the season against Boston College and Virginia, both 2-6. Georgia Tech (3-5) needs three wins in four games to extend its 15-year bowl streak.

Virginia and Boston College would have to win out to make a bowl game.

The ACC has sent at least seven teams to the postseason every year since expanding to a 12-team league in 2005, including a record 10 in 2008. The conference hasn’t had as few as six bowl teams since 2004, when it was an 11-team league. It sent only five teams to bowls in 2000, when it was a nine-team league.

There’s also the rule that prevents the conference championship game loser from falling below the Sun Bowl in the ACC bowl order.

So, if you’ve got the darts, throw ’em and wait until December to see if you’re right.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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