ACC's bowl picture still unclear entering final 2 weeks
By JOEDY McCREARY
Nov. 15, 2017
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — With the regular season winding down, the Atlantic Coast Conference's bowl picture is still unclear.
No. 2 Miami (9-0) and No. 4 Clemson (9-1) are headed to the ACC championship game and the winner appears bound for the College Football Playoff — though there's a chance the loser also could earn a spot.
No. 25 North Carolina State (7-3) leads the pack of bowl teams a notch below. But don't forget about No. 9 Notre Dame, the wild card that could throw another wrinkle into the selection process for league teams.
"It's really still a wait-and-see approach, because you really can't make any decisions or even speculate about what options may be available because you still have got two weeks of results to go," said Michael Strickland, the ACC's senior associate commissioner of football operations.
The ACC enters the 12th week of the season with 13 of its 14 teams still in the hunt for bowl berths.
Seven have already qualified for bowls. Two more — Boston College (5-5) and Georgia Tech (5-4) — could join them this week. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Duke need to win their final two games to reach the six-win mark, though the Blue Devils (4-6) could reach a bowl game with just five victories because of their high APR score.
Florida State (3-6) must win its final three games to reach the postseason for the 36th straight year, or else the Seminoles will be left out along with North Carolina — with a 2-8 record, the only team so far that definitely won't make it.
"We need to play three good football games," coach Jimbo Fisher said, "but first, we need to play one."
The Tigers (No. 2 CFP) and Hurricanes (No. 3 CFP) locked up spots in the Dec. 2 league title game in Charlotte, and if they continue to roll through the regular season, the winner certainly will advance to a national semifinal — either the Rose or Sugar bowl. Depending on what else happens around the country, it's possible that a once-beaten Clemson team defeating undefeated Miami could put both in college football's final four.
While no conference has sent multiple teams to the playoff since it started in 2014, Strickland said the league's bowl arrangements "are prepared to handle just about anything."
If the ACC title-game loser is left out of the semifinals, it's probably headed to the Orange Bowl, which must take the league's highest-ranked non-playoff team. Having two ACC playoff teams would open that door for N.C. State, ranked 19th this week by the committee. The opponent would be the highest-ranked team available among a pool that includes Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten.
Here's where it gets a bit more complicated: If a Big Ten team is selected, that conference yields its spot in the Citrus Bowl to the ACC. But that slot also could be taken by Notre Dame — if the Fighting Irish (8-2, No. 8 CFP) don't make the semifinals or one of the other New Year's Six bowls, and as long as they are within one victory of the best remaining ACC team.
The next pick in the pecking order goes to the Camping World Bowl. After that comes what the league calls its Tier One group of four bowls that decide their ACC teams together: the Belk, Sun, Pinstripe and either the Taxslayer or Music City bowls.
The second tier of bowls — the Military, Independence and Quick Lane bowls — make the same kind of group decision. The Gasparilla and Birmingham bowls are the two backup bowls if they have openings and the ACC has more bowl-eligible teams.
Those tie-ins won't help Duke at all, if the Blue Devils don't get to six wins.
They're in a special situation because of their success in the classroom. In recent years, there have been more spots in bowls than qualifying teams, so the NCAA allows the bowls to fill the remaining openings with 5-7 teams with the highest APR scores. Duke is tied for the fourth-best APR score among teams in the FBS, and two of the teams ahead of them — Northwestern and Michigan — have already reached the six-win mark.
Two teams (North Texas, Mississippi State) earned bowl berths with 5-7 records in 2016, and three followed that path to the postseason in 2015. So it's reasonable to think Duke would qualify with one more victory.
But it wouldn't necessarily benefit from the ACC's numerous bowl ties because "conference relationships with a particular bowl don't matter when you get to a 5-7 team," Strickland said. The NCAA would compile a list of bowl openings, go down the list of five-win teams with high APRs and ask if they want to opt into a bowl, then let the bowls and schools pair themselves up.
"At that point, it's kind of an open market for the teams and bowls," Strickland said.
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