If there is an upside to a down year for ACC football, it’s the bowl selection process will be a little simpler.
Last year, the ACC had 12 teams (11 of their own plus Notre Dame) for 11 bowl spots. This year, the ACC’s maximum number of eligible teams is nine, with five 7-loss teams already eliminated.
Counting the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six bowls, the ACC has nine guaranteed spots for nine teams. That math works out nicely, especially after last year’s CFP selection shenanigans and the need to find a home for an extra team (Pittsburgh ended up in the Armed Forces Bowl).
Where all the pieces will land come Sunday, Dec. 6 is still up in the air and there’s still one more team, 5-5 Virginia Tech, that can join the bowl mix.
The Hokies, with longtime coach Frank Beamer retiring at the end of the season, also happen to be the ACC’s biggest wild card. Beamer’s farewell will be a popular ticket and attractive to some of the ACC’s best bowl spots. This is where the postseason permutations get complicated with N.C. State and Duke, both at 6-4, possibly being impacted.
The good news for the Wolfpack and Blue Devils, Notre Dame almost certainly won’t be involved in the conference’s bowl mix this time around. The Irish dropped N.C. State out of the Belk Bowl last year, with an assist from the CFP selection committee.
Barring disaster for Notre Dame (9-1), No. 4 in the most recent CFP rankings, the Fighting Irish will be placed into a “New Year’s Six” game, at worst, or in the playoff, at best.
Same goes for Clemson (10-0), No. 1 in the CFP rankings. If the Tigers win out, they’ll start the playoffs in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31. If they stumble, they’ll still be ranked high enough to qualify for am NY6 bowl.
Last year, a 10-3 Arizona team ranked No. 10 by the committee, was the last at-large team in a NY6 bowl. You figure both Clemson and Notre Dame will finish in the top 10.
UNC, No. 23 in the most recent CFP rankings, would be guaranteed a spot in a NY6 game, likely the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31, if it knocked off Clemson in the ACC title game.
The Tar Heels probably have too much ground to make up to get into the top four but if they win out and are compared to a 2-loss Pac-12 champion or Big 12 champion, there might be a small window.
Their landing spots in the ACC bowl order are promising with the Russell Athletic in Orlando (Dec. 29) or the Gator Bowl (Jan. 2) in Jacksonville, Fla., tops on the list.
UNC has already won enough games to secure a spot in one of what the ACC calls its “Tier I” bowls.
If you’re new to the ACC bowl process, here’s how the tiers work:
There are four games in the first tier: Belk (Charlotte), Pinstripe (New York), Sun (El Paso) and either the Gator or the Music City Bowl (Nashville).
The Gator and Music City are contracted to take three ACC teams (or Notre Dame) over a six-year period. The Music City had Irish last year but there’s no set rotation between the games. Just that between them, one of them will take an ACC team.
The second tier is, in selection order: the Military (Annapolis, Md.), Independence (Shreveport, La.) and Quick Lane (Detroit).
There are some qualifiers to get into Tier I. If there are four teams with a record of 8-4 or better, a 6-6 team can’t be picked in the first tier.
Either UNC or Florida State (8-2) will be in Tier I (with the other in Orlando). Of the other six bowl-eligible teams, only Pittsburgh (7-3) has more than six wins.
If there aren’t four teams with 8 or more wins, then a 6-6 team can be picked over a 7-5 team. That’s where Beamer and his magic ticket might muck up the chances for Duke or N.C. State landing in Charlotte, opposite an SEC team, for the Belk Bowl on Dec. 30.
Falling out of the top tier is less than ideal, with Shreveport as the crash landing, but the only thing either Duke or N.C. State can do to help its cause is win more games.
A weekly review of who’s trending in college football:
Kansas (UP): For a 23-17 loss? Why not? The Jayhawks never led in the second half against TCU but they at least had a chance to end their road losing streak (now 36 games). After losing 66-7 to Baylor, 58-10 to Oklahoma State and 62-7 to Oklahoma, that’s definitely progress for first-year coach David Beaty.
Arkansas (UP): The Razorbacks have won five of six since a 1-3 start and ruined any last hope of LSU sneaking into the playoff with a 31-14 road upset of the Tigers.
Pac-12 (DOWN): You just knew Oregon would spoil it for somebody. The Ducks have too much talent to flounder through the season (7-3) like they have. Their 38-36 win at Stanford, combined with Utah’s road loss to Arizona, knocks the Pac-12 out of the playoff race.
Baylor (DOWN): The Bears had their chance to prove the CFP committee wrong (they were ranked No. 6 last week) and couldn’t. Their 44-34 home loss to Oklahoma likely ends their national title hopes.