ACC bowl picture still includes lots of possibilities

Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest all still in the hunt for a postseason bid

jgiglio@newsobserver.comNovember 21, 2012 

N.C. State and Duke will play in a bowl game.

That much is a given. The when, the where and against whom is still unclear and will be for another 10 days. N.C. State might wind up in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. and there’s a good chance Duke’s first bowl trip in 18 years will be in-state, to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.

Still, in a most unusual and turbulent fall for the ACC – from the addition of Notre Dame as a partial conference member, to the exit of Maryland and with one team ineligible by the NCAA (North Carolina) and another in an effort to appease the NCAA (Miami) – it’s only fitting that another conference (the Big 12) will have more control of the ACC’s bowl fate than the ACC itself.

The ACC has nine bowl tie-ins, with its champion slotted into the Orange Bowl and the next three choices going to the Chick-fil-A, Russell Athletic and Sun Bowls, respectively.

The Belk Bowl gets the fifth choice in the ACC order, followed by the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Neither Charlotte nor Nashville is guaranteed an ACC team at this point.

Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, both 5-6, could fill out the ACC’s bowl card with a win on Saturday. The Hokies host Virginia and Wake Forest gets Vanderbilt at home.

There’s still a chance the Belk Bowl at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 27 could feature two teams from the state of Ohio – Cincinnati and Ohio University from the Mid-American Conference.

“We are hoping for the best and planning for every scenario that’s not necessarily the best,” said Will Webb, the executive director of Charlotte Collegiate Football, which runs the Belk Bowl.

The biggest wild card for the ACC with one regular-season game left is Clemson. The Tigers (10-1) could get an at-large spot in a BCS bowl, likely the Sugar Bowl, if they beat rival South Carolina on Saturday.

If Clemson goes to the Sugar Bowl, which selected an ACC team (Virginia Tech) as an at-large team last year, all of the other ACC teams would move up in the conference’s order. That would open the door for either N.C. State, Duke or Georgia Tech, who are all 6-5, to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.

But, and this is where the Big 12 comes into play, last week the Sugar Bowl announced it reached a 12-year deal with the SEC and Big 12, worth a reported $80 million annually.

That contract doesn’t kick in until the next bowl cycle, after the 2014 season, but if there’s a Big 12 team eligible for an at-large bid this season, what are the chances the Sugar takes an ACC team over its new bowl partner?

Oklahoma and Texas, both 8-2, are both ranked in the top 16 of the BCS standings this week and would need to finish in the top 16 to qualify for an at-large spot.

If the Sugar selects a Big 12 team, that would send Clemson back to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. Under the ACC’s rules, Clemson – with a 7-1 ACC record – can’t be jumped in the bowl order by any of the 5-3 or 4-4 ACC teams. The Tigers started the season with a 26-19 win over Auburn in Atlanta.

If Clemson’s not available, Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan said how N.C. State, Duke and Georgia Tech finish the season will determine his bowl’s selection. N.C. State started the season in Atlanta, and sold about half as many tickets to its Kickoff game with Tennessee than the other three teams in Atlanta for the opening weekend, but Stokan said that doesn’t knock the Wolfpack out of contention for the New Year’s Eve game.

“In my mind, we have no trepidation because N.C. State played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game,” Stokan said. “I’m confident N.C. State would sell its allotment of tickets to our bowl game.”

If Clemson ends up in the Chick-fil-A, that would likely mean a second trip in three years for the Wolfpack to the Russell Athletic Bowl, which was previously called the Champs Bowl. N.C. State hosts Boston College (2-9) on Saturday.

The Wolfpack has won its past two bowl games, both over Big East teams, and would face a third straight Big East foe in Orlando on Dec. 28. The Big East champion, either, Rutgers or Louisville, will go to the Orange Bowl, with the second-place team headed to Orlando.

The Sun Bowl selects after the Russell Athletic but under ACC rules, the loser of the ACC title game can’t drop below the Sun Bowl, which will also be played New Year’s Eve.

Georgia Tech, which is 6-5, would likely make its second straight trip to El Paso, Texas, if it loses to Florida State in the ACC title game in Charlotte on Dec. 1. There’s a possibility the Yellow Jackets could finish the season 6-7, which means they would need a waiver from the NCAA to go to a bowl game. The waiver is likely a formality with the NCAA, since a 6-7 UCLA team was allowed to play, but you never know with the NCAA.

Duke would be high on the Belk Bowl’s radar, especially with a win over Miami on Saturday. The Blue Devils would be matched up with a Big East team in Charlotte, likely Cincinnati. Given it’s Duke’s first bowl trip since the 1994 season, the Blue Devils have an edge over Virginia Tech, which is suffering through a disappointing season and has been to a BCS bowl four times in the past five years.

Webb said the Hokies and/or Demon Deacons would be considered for a spot in Charlotte if they qualify.

“I can’t control the weather and I can’t control this,” Webb said. “We’d like to have options, that would be good for us.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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