The ACC should have emerged complaint-free from the first College Football Playoff selection process once undefeated Florida State, correctly and obviously, was invited to the semifinals. Let the Big 12 complain about Baylor and Texas Christian's exclusion. The ACC was going to be just fine. The dominos were falling just right.
Then the CFP committee, for no apparent reason, swapped Michigan State and Mississippi State in the final rankings, moving the Bulldogs past the Spartans even though neither team played. That dropped Michigan State out of the Orange Bowl. That cost the ACC the Big Ten's berth in the Citrus Bowl. That left one more bowl-eligible ACC team than available berths. And that turned the entire ACC bowl process into a free-for-all.
And which ACC school took the biggest drop during the resulting scramble? Go ahead, guess. Only the school with the fan base that's already convinced everyone from John Swofford to Karl Hess is part of the conspiracy against it. Of course: N.C. State.
After years spent trying to remove the smoke-filled rooms from the bowl process, the CFP managed to reverse decades of progress in one afternoon. Between the arbitrary logic used to select Ohio State ahead of either Big 12 team – a home loss to Virginia Tech would be considered a disqualifying factor on any other planet – and the bizarre do-si-do of MSUs, the committee made it look for all the world like the Big Ten was the loudest voice in the room, the political power-broker picking a presidential nominee no matter how the primary votes were counted.
You know, like the old days. The old, corrupt days.
The committee's maneuvering, which just happened to benefit the Big Ten, managed to make the flawed, biased BCS process look sane, just and rational – a considerable feat, to say the least.
Meanwhile, N.C. State ended up paying the biggest price, just as the Wolfpack's online conspiracy theorists would surmise. (“Do you know where the Big Ten commissioner went to school? UNC! For undergraduate and law school!”) Instead of a virtual home game against an SEC team in Charlotte's Belk Bowl, the Wolfpack slid to one of the ACC's so-called Tier II bowls and will play Central Florida in St. Petersburg, Fla., instead.
That was the fallout from the loss of the Citrus Bowl berth, which saw Louisville and Notre Dame shuffled down through the ranks. Not everyone was harmed: Duke would have preferred New York's Pinstripe Bowl but the El Paso, Texas, Sun Bowl was always a likely destination anyway, with Arizona State a compelling opponent. North Carolina avoided Shreveport, La., and will play Rutgers in Detroit’s QuickLane Bowl, indoors at least.
But without the Citrus, there were five Tier I teams fighting for four spots. The Wolfpack ended up in a Tier II bowl. (Pittsburgh, a Tier II team at risk of being left out entirely, took an unfilled Big 12 spot in the Armed Forces Bowl, a relatively soft landing.)
The entire ACC process was as curious as the CFP process, especially when it came to Notre Dame. Perhaps no one ever considered the possibility the Irish might fall into the Tier I bowls, the four bowls grouped below the Orange and Russell Athletic, because the convoluted procedure, apparently involving a rotation and a lottery, still hasn’t been fully revealed.
If there's good news, it's that an eight-team playoff can't be far away. Which is where this entire process should have started, but if it took the Big 12 getting snubbed and the ridiculous reality-TV rankings release each week being exposed as meaningless after Sunday's last-second changes, consider that collateral damage on the way to the right destination.