ACC Bowl Projections: A Glut Of Riches

The ACC not only stands poised to put its champion into the BCS National Championship Game–presuming Florida State takes care of business against Duke on Saturday, a task that should be much easier now that it’s been decided Seminole quarterback Jameis Winston won’t be charged with sexual assault–but the conference stands apart from the rest of the country in filling bowl slots. The ACC has a higher percentage of its teams bowl-eligible than any BCS conference.

Eleven of the fourteen ACC schools won at least six games and made themselves eligible for a bowl invitation. That’s 78.5 percent, which stands narrowly ahead of the Pac-12 (9/12, for 75 percent) and SEC (10/14, for 71 percent).

There are no shortage of flaws in this stat for measuring conference strength–teams can pad their win total outside of the conference and when you have two absolutely awful teams (N.C. State and Virginia each lost all eight ACC games) it stands to reason a couple more will pick up bowl eligiblity rather than narrowly miss at 5-7.

Nonetheless, it’s not like the Big Ten and Big 12 don’t have bad teams in them and neither one could fill its bowl slots. Pending whether either conference gets a BCS at-large spot, they could end up failing to fill two spots. Meanwhile, the ACC will likely have a BCS at-large team (Clemson) and will not only fill all of its spots, but grab up bids in the places where either conferences failed.

That makes the business of ACC bowl projections very interesting this week. Here’s TheSportsNotebook’s take on how it will shake out…

BCS Automatic: Florida State (BCS National Championship Game, vs. Ohio State or Auburn)
BCS At-Large: Clemson (Orange, vs. Baylor or Alabama)
Chick-Fil-A: Miami (Georgia)
Russell Athletic: Duke (Louisville)
Sun: Virginia Tech (UCLA)
Belk: North Carolina (Houston)
Music City: Maryland (Vanderbilt)
AdvocareV100: Boston College (TBA, SEC failed to fill)
Military: Georgia Tech (UT-San Antonio)

That leaves Syracuse and Pitt shopping for a bowl. Both teams have a strong interest in rooting for Clemson to be chosen by one of the major bowls, since it opens up one extra spot for everyone else down the line on this conference’s chain of command. Also note, the ACC has an agreement with the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but that is conditional on BYU not being eligible, a circumstance which does not apply.

The Sun Bowl is the conference’s “firewall” bowl, so to speak. The bowl has a committment to select the loser of the championship game (Duke, under this scenario) in the event that the runner-up hasn’t been taken. This prevents the free-fall effect that often forces a team’s fans to chose between taking a longshot chance at a conference title or killing their bowl hopes with a bad loss, as most of us expect Duke is going to take Saturday night in Charlotte.

In any event, Virginia Tech played in the Russell Athletic Bowl a year ago, and their 13-10 win over Rutgers was arguably the ugliest game of the bowl season. I doubt Hokie Nation will be anxious to go back to the same venue, and I doubt the Orlando-based game will be anxious to invite them. Duke will still be a nice story, and I think they get the nod.

It’s after Virginia Tech, who is 8-4, that things get really interesting. The other six teams are either 7-5 (Maryland, Georgia Tech, Boston College) or 6-6 (North Carolina, Syracuse, Pitt). The rule the NCAA used to have requiring 6-6 teams to be chosen last has been abolished, and there’s really nothing separating these times in terms of generic attractiveness.

The Belk Bowl is based on Charlotte, which elevates North Carolina out of the generic brand and makes them a bit more marquee to this particular bowl game. The travel for Maryland fans to get to Nashville for the Music City Bowl is pretty reasonable.

Travel for any ACC school to Shreveport for the Advocare V100 will be tough, so dropping Boston College’s marquee running Andre Williams–who might be fresh off an appearance in New York City–makes sense. The Military Bowl is based in Washington D.C., and Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has Navy ties.