N.C. State, North Carolina and the ACC got a little help from the Big Ten on Tuesday night.
With Michigan State's jump in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, the ACC will almost certainly — barring an epic loss by Alabama in the SEC title game — have a home for all 12 of its teams, including Notre Dame, in its bowl order.
That's potentially good news for UNC, or any of the other 6-6 teams, because they're unlikely to have to scramble to find an available bowl slot outside the ACC structure.
It's even better news for the Wolfpack, because it's now all but guaranteed a spot in one of the ACC's four "Tier I" bowls, and possibly the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
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Here's what happened:
1) Michigan State jumped up to No. 8 in the CFP rankings, two spots ahead of No. 10 Mississippi State.
The contract with the Orange Bowl guarantees a spot to the highest-ranked team, that's not the conference champion, from the Big Ten or SEC (Notre Dame's also in that deal but the Irish are not ranked).
Since neither Michigan State nor Mississippi State plays this week, that order almost certainly won't change. The Big Ten opponent could change, if No. 5 Ohio State loses in the Big Ten title game, but it would still be a Big Ten team in the Orange to face Georgia Tech — as long as Alabama doesn't lose to Missouri.
If No. 16 Missouri upsets Alabama in the SEC title game, the Tigers would be the SEC champion — and ineligible for the Orange Bowl — but Alabama would likely be ranked ahead of Michigan State or the second Big Ten team and fall out of the playoff and into the Orange.
Alabama (11-1) is a 14.5-point favorite over the Tigers (10-2).
2) If the Orange slot goes to the Big Ten, then the ACC gets the Big Ten's slot in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. on Jan. 1. (The contract calls for that to happen three times in six years, since this is the first year of the deal, it's likely to be triggered).
That would give the ACC two slots in Orlando — the Citrus and the Russell Athletic Bowl, which is played Dec. 29.
Both games are run by the Florida Citrus Sports Group and played at the same stadium.
Clemson (9-3), Louisville (9-3) and Duke (9-3) are the only teams eligible for the Orlando slots. Notre Dame (7-5) cannot be picked.
Clemson will be the likely pick for the Citrus and the Cardinals will likely be ticketed back to the Russell Athletic.
3) That leaves only four teams — Duke (9-3), Boston College (7-5), N.C. State (7-5) and Notre Dame — in the Tier I pool for four bowl games.
The Sun (El Paso, Texas), Pinstripe (New York) and Belk will get an ACC team. Either the Music City (Nashville) or Gator (Jacksonville, Fla.) will take an ACC team but not both bowls. The decision on the fourth bowl won't be made until Sunday when the bowl reps meet in Charlotte.
As a reminder, the bowls in Tier I that want Notre Dame will have a drawing. The game wins the drawing, gets Notre Dame. That drawing will take place Sunday.
The Belk, if it doesn't win the Notre Dame drawing, will likely take N.C. State, which would set up a probable matchup with Tennessee.
Duke went to the Belk Bowl in 2012 and played in the ACC title game in Charlotte in 2013. The possibility of a return to Charlotte is remote.
Of the other three slots, the Sun is the most likely landing spot for Duke, but again, that all depends on the Notre Dame drawing.
4) If the ACC gets the Citrus, then there will be four 6-6 teams — Pittsburgh, UNC, Virginia Tech and Miami — for four Tier II slots.
The Tier II games are the Military (Annapolis, Md.), Quick Lane (Detroit), Independence (Shreveport, La.) and Bitcoin (St. Petersburg, Fla.).
The American Athletic Conference has a deal with the Military and Bitcoin bowls. Wherever East Carolina lands, a rematch with either Virginia Tech or UNC will almost certainly be avoided.
UNC has made it clear to everyone at the ACC, and Independence Bowl, it's not interested in a return to the Dec. 27th game, after its unpleasant trip in 2011.