Unless a cluster of four-win teams collectively close out the season in a flurry, the ACC is going to have more bowl spots than bowl teams.
With four weeks left in the regular season, the ACC has four bowl-eligible teams: Clemson (9-0), Wake Forest (7-1), Virginia (6-3) and Pittsburgh (6-3).
There are four more teams that need one more win: Louisville (5-3), Virginia Tech (5-3), Boston College (5-4) and Miami (5-4).
The league has 11 bowl spots plus a possibility at an extra spot in the Citrus Bowl. If Clemson remains unbeaten and returns to the College Football Playoffs for the fifth straight year, that would take another ACC team out of the league’s bowl order and leave seven teams for 12 possible spots. That math could change, and probably will, depending on how the four-win teams close out.
There’s plenty of room for Duke (4-4), N.C. State (4-4), UNC (4-5) and/or Florida State (4-5). Syracuse (3-6) and Georgia Tech (2-6) are mathematically alive but only on paper.
This is the part of the programming where we mention that Notre Dame (6-2) will drop into the ACC bowl lineup if it’s not selected for one of the CFP bowl games.
A review of how the league’s complicated selection process works:
The league has a “contracted” spot in the Orange Bowl (Miami, Dec. 30) when it does not host a CFP playoff game. The Peach Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl are the semifinal hosts this season.
That means even if Clemson gets picked for the playoff, the ACC gets a team in the Orange Bowl. That’s potentially great news for Wake Forest and coach Dave Clawson.
The CFP rankings determine which ACC team goes to Miami. Wake Forest is in line to take the ACC’s spot. The Demon Deacons have games with Virginia Tech, Clemson, Duke and Syracuse left. The first CFP rankings will be released on Tuesday.
Notre Dame can be the opponent in the Orange Bowl but it can’t take the ACC’s spot. The opponent is determined by the highest-rated available team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame (it can’t be a “Group of 5” team, so no Appalachian State or Central Florida).
Since the Rose Bowl is not a CFP semifinal site, it will get the highest-rated Big Ten team not in the playoff. The SEC has a similar deal with the Sugar Bowl. If the Big Ten is the opponent in the Orange (Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin are likely in play with the Penn State-Ohio State loser ticketed for the Rose), then the ACC gets a spot in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1. Notre Dame can take the league’s spot in the Citrus.
Camping World Bowl
The Camping World Bowl (Orlando, Fla., Dec. 28) gets the first choice of ACC teams (or Notre Dame) after the CFP process. The opponent is from the Big 12.
This will likely wind up being the team that wins the Virginia-Virginia Tech game in the regular-season finale. Pitt or Louisville could also be in position to take this spot, with a strong finish. Syracuse was the choice here last year, so there’s no worry about a repeat.
The Belk Bowl (Charlotte, Dec. 31), Pinstripe Bowl (New York, Dec. 27), Music City Bowl (Nashville, Dec. 30) and Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31) choose after the Camping World Bowl.
The bowl executives work together, with the ACC, to set up the matchups for these four games. Proximity of the schools is factored, so is the desire to avoid regular-season matchups and repeat bowl trips.
There is also a “two-win” rule for the Tier I games. A 6-6 team can’t be picked over an 8-4 team. There’s also a protection in place for the loser of the ACC title game not to fall below the Sun Bowl.
UNC and Virginia Tech are the two priorities for the Belk Bowl. The Tar Heels, with at least two more wins, would be their top choice. There’s a chance, if the Heels finish 6-6, they could be squeezed out of the Tier I pool.
Return trips for Pitt (Sun), Miami (Pinstripe), Virginia (Belk) will likely be avoided.
The Music City and Gator Bowls have an agreement to share an ACC slot over a six-year period. This is the final year of that six-year agreement. The Gator Bowl has already used its three ACC choices and is unlikely to take an ACC team this year.
Louisville or Miami make most sense in Nashville. The Sun Bowl might be a logical landing spot for the Virginia-Virginia Tech loser or Miami.
Notre Dame could also drop into this tier, although that seems unlikely. The Irish close out the season with Duke, Navy (7-1), Boston College and Stanford (4-4).
The Military Bowl (Annapolis, Md., Dec. 27) gets the first choice after the Tier I process. Virginia Tech was there last year. Miami is always a popular bowl choice due to its name-brand television appeal. The opponent is from the American Athletic Conference. N.C. State or Duke would make some regional sense, if either can get to six wins. Pitt or BC are other options.
The Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 26) picks after the Military Bowl. Boston College might be ticketed for the ACC’s last trip to Shreveport with a win in one of its last three games. The SEC is the opponent. Duke was in Shreveport last year, FSU in 2017 and N.C. State in 2016.
The Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit, Dec. 26) might not get an ACC team if the Citrus opens up for the ACC. N.C. State, Duke or Florida State could play their way here with two more wins. The Big Ten is the opponent.
N.C. State closes with Clemson, Louisville, Georgia Tech (2-6) and UNC. Duke has Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest and Miami left. Florida State, which just fired its coach, has Boston College, Alabama State (4-4) and Florida (7-2) remaining.
The ACC also has potential spots in Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa, Fla., Dec. 23) and Birmingham Bowl (Jan. 2), if needed.
Nov. 4 ACC bowl projections
CFP (Peach Bowl): Clemson vs. LSU
Orange (Miami): Wake Forest vs. Notre Dame
Camping World (Orlando): Virginia vs. Big 12
Belk (Charlotte): UNC vs. SEC
Music City (Nashville): Miami vs. Big Ten/SEC
Pinstripe (New York): Pittsburgh vs. Big Ten
Sun (El Paso): Virginia Tech vs. Pac-12
Military (Annapolis): Louisville vs. American Athletic
Independence (Shreveport): Boston College vs. SEC
Quick Lane (Detroit): Duke vs. Big Ten