Luke DeCock

DeCock: Triple Triangle bowl trips secure, destinations unknown

North Carolina’s Landon Turner (78) celebrates and teammates celebrate the Tar Heels’ 26-19 victory over Pittsburgh Thursday, October 29, 2015, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa.
North Carolina’s Landon Turner (78) celebrates and teammates celebrate the Tar Heels’ 26-19 victory over Pittsburgh Thursday, October 29, 2015, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. rwillett@newsobserver.com

With N.C. State’s win over Boston College last Saturday making the Wolfpack bowl-eligible, all three Triangle teams will go to bowl games this season for the third time. Ever.

Two of those seasons have come back-to-back, last year and this year. This is a historical curiosity, since there were many decades when it took considerably more than six wins to reach a bowl, before the cable-fueled bowl bloat of today. Still, it’s a landmark worthy of noting.

While the “if” of the bowl season for the three teams is settled, there’s still plenty on the line as far as the “where”. N.C. State probably needs a trademark win – at Florida State on Saturday or against North Carolina in the season’s final game – to secure its place in the ACC’s first tier of bowls, which would bring Charlotte’s Belk Bowl into play. And Duke needs to do everything it can to stay in that first tier, which also includes the Pinstripe Bowl, Sun Bowl and Music City or Gator bowls, especially if Virginia Tech is bowl-eligible.

Unlike those two, North Carolina is in good position, with Orlando’s Russell Athletic Bowl – the ACC’s top non-CFP bowl – a likely destination.

As always, events elsewhere will have as much to say about things as anything, and there are some welcome givens this year as well as the assortment of usual variables that puts the Triangle teams at risk.

The good news for the Triangle: Notre Dame is clearly going to end up in a CFP bowl, if not a national semifinal, so the ACC’s bowls will go to actual ACC teams this year.

Last season, the ACC lost a prime bowl slot at the last minute, thanks to some jiggery-pokery by the CFP committee. The ACC was in line to claim an extra bowl berth, the Big Ten’s slot in the Citrus Bowl – a provision in the creation of the CFP if a Big Ten team is the ACC’s opponent in the Orange Bowl – until the committee swapped Michigan State and Mississippi State in the standings without either playing a game. That put the Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl, the Spartans in the Cotton Bowl and the ACC up a creek without a propulsion device.

That entire situation was complicated by Notre Dame failing to claim a spot in a CF-affiliated bowl and falling into the ACC’s bowl pool for the first time, with a murky procedure to determine who gets to select the coveted Irish. The upshot? N.C. State ended up in a Tier II bowl instead of Charlotte and Duke ended up in El Paso instead of New York.

The good news for the Triangle: Notre Dame is clearly going to end up in a CFP bowl, if not a national semifinal, so the ACC’s bowls will go to actual ACC teams this year. And the Orange Bowl is a CFP semifinal, so there are no shenanigans in play there. That’s Clemson’s likely destination assuming the Tigers remain in the top four, while the Peach Bowl would be an alternate CFP destination for an ACC champion that isn’t a semifinalist, whether that’s one-loss Clemson or an upset-minded Coastal team like North Carolina.

The bad news: If Virginia Tech can get bowl-eligible with a win over North Carolina or Virginia, there’s going to be a mad scramble within Tier I to take the Hokies in Frank Beamer’s final game.

Assuming Clemson is a national semifinalist, which should be a safe assumption, at this point it looks like there are six teams for five spots in Orlando and four Tier I bowls: North Carolina, Florida State, N.C. State, Duke, Miami and Pittsburgh. N.C. State and Duke need to do everything they can to bolster their cases, and even then the Hokies could potentially end up bumping N.C. State and Duke into Tier II bowls – the Military Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl or Independence Bowl.

After last season’s mess, the ACC could stand to enjoy a little certainty and do without the drama.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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