N.C. State could play in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte … or the Pinstripe Bowl in New York … or the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. … or the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md. … or the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.
That’s about as clear as the ACC bowl picture gets with one week left in the regular season. There are too many variables to accurately project where N.C. State (7-4), or Duke (6-5), will wind up come bowl season.
North Carolina (10-1), which could still play its way into the College Football Playoff or a “New Year’s 6” game, is one of the few ACC teams with any sort of bowl clarity.
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If the Tar Heels win out, they would be guaranteed a spot in a NY6 game (as the ACC champion), likely the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31. There’s still an outside shot they could wind up in the top 4 and make the playoff.
At the very least, the Tar Heels are ticketed for the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 in Orlando in what would be an entertaining matchup with a Big 12 team (Oklahoma State, TCU).
It’s just not that easy for the Wolfpack or the Blue Devils, who are hoping to move up to one of four bowls the ACC’s calls “Tier I.”
There are three games in Tier I every year: the Belk (Dec. 30), the Pinstripe (Dec. 26), the Sun in El Paso, Texas (Dec. 26).
The fourth spot goes to either the Gator (Jan. 2) or the Music City Bowl in Nashville (Dec. 30). The two bowls are contracted to take an ACC team, or Notre Dame, three times in a six-year period.
An important ACC guideline to remember: If four teams finish with 8 wins or more, a 6-win team is not eligible for the Tier I pool.
If there are less than four, then a 6-win team can be picked in Tier I.
That means Virginia Tech (5-6), with a win at Virginia on Saturday, could still qualify for a Tier I slot. Given that it would be longtime coach Frank Beamer’s last game, the Hokies are a popular choice.
Charlotte has the first option of taking Virginia Tech and would do so if the Hokies make it into the Tier I pool.
N.C. State, with a win over UNC and some help, could still lock Virginia Tech (5-6) out of a Tier I bowl.
Duke, which has lost four straight, could beat Wake Forest (3-8) and move into Tier I and land in the Pinstripe Bowl.
There are still a lot of scenarios. A few to consider for Wolfpack and Duke fans (in order of most likely to least likely):
1) Virginia Tech wins AND Miami (who plays at Pitt) loses.
That puts the Hokies in Tier I and Charlotte.
If Florida State (9-2) moves up to an NY6 game, it would open up a spot in the Gator Bowl, against an SEC team, for the Wolfpack, win or lose against Carolina.
If Florida State loses or stays in the Tier I, the Seminoles would go to the Gator. That would leave N.C. State as a possibility for the Pinstripe Bowl but would likely be passed over by a 7-5 Duke for a spot in New York.
That would leave N.C. State to the Military Bowl – which is unlikely if Navy doesn’t win the American Athletic Conference – or Shreveport against an SEC team.
Duke, if it loses to Wake, will wind up in either the Military Bowl (more likely if Navy is the opponent) or the Independence Bowl.
2) Virginia Tech loses.
That opens up the Tier I choices for both N.C. State and Duke. Even with a loss to UNC, N.C. State would likely be headed to Charlotte, to face an SEC team (Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas), in the Belk Bowl.
Duke, with a win over Wake Forest, would likely be bound for New York City. If Duke loses, its choices remain Annapolis or Shreveport.
3) N.C. State and Miami win AND Florida State loses.
That would lock the Hokies out of Tier I and put N.C. State in the Belk Bowl.
Duke, win or lose against Wake, would be in Tier II in either Annapolis or Shreveport.
A weekly review of who’s trending:
UNC (UP): The tenth win in a row is always the hardest. The Tar Heels spoil Frank Beamer’s final home game at Virginia Tech with a 30-27 overtime win. The Heels are 2-0 against teams they lost to last season.
Baylor (UP): Down to their third-string quarterback, the Bears go to Oklahoma State, spoil the Cowboys’ unbeaten season and rack up 700 total yards of offense in the process.
Ohio State (DOWN): Harsh words from star running back Ezekiel Elliott after the Buckeyes’ first regular-season Big Ten loss in four years under Urban Meyer. Elliott blamed the play-calling, he had just 12 carries for 33 yards, for the 17-14 home loss to Michigan State.
Just last week, Meyer was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying: “The Meyers and the Elliotts will be friends the rest of our lives.”
Maybe just not on Saturday.
SEC East (DOWN): South Carolina loses to The Citadel, Florida needs overtime to beat Florida Atlantic and Georgia escapes against Georgia Southern in overtime.
The SEC might need to rethink its annual November “bye” week scheduling philosophy.