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UNC Football: The Bowl Picture

Before we get to the last two games of the season, let’s see where things stand in terms of a bowl game.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Belk Bowl - South Carolina v Virginia Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Now that we have the ugliness of last weekend behind us, let’s look forward to something. A bowl game is still very much in play for this Tar Heel football team, but the question is what is a realistic expectation for where they can go?

To start, if you forgot about the bowl games that the ACC can go to, check out last month’s guide. It’ll provide a good base of knowledge going forward. We’ll break this down by who’s already set to go, who still could go, and then start to sort through the puzzle.

Who’s already qualified?

Clemson (11-0)

Notre Dame* (8-2) (Considered ACC for anything after NY6)

Virginia (7-3)

Pittsburgh (7-3)

Virginia Tech (7-3)

Wake Forest (7-3)

Louisville (6-5)

Florida State (6-5)

Miami (6-4)

Who can still qualify?

Boston College (5-5) (@Notre Dame, @Pitt)

NC State (4-6) (@Georgia Tech, vs UNC)

Syracuse (4-6) (@Louisville, vs.Wake Forest)

UNC (4-6) (vs.Mercer, @NC State)

Duke (4-6) (@Wake Forest, vs.Miami)

Who’s eliminated?

Georgia Tech (2-8)

So, we’re up to nine teams that are already set to go to ACC Bowl games, and four more who could qualify. Why four when you see five teams in that second list? Take a look at those schedules and you see that should Carolina and State win this weekend, the showdown in Raleigh will be for bowl eligibility. Thus, the ACC has a realistic shot of having 13 teams in its pool looking for a bowl.

How many bowl bids can the ACC get?

The ACC at minimum can send nine teams to bowl games: the Orange, Camping World, Quick Lane, Independence, Military, as well as four of the group of the Pinstripe, Belk, Sun, Gator, and Music City. Those bowls are the ones that contractually must take an ACC team under the scenarios that have been gone over. The ACC also has an agreement with the Gasparilla and Birmingham Bowls that if they can’t fill their slot with their contracted conferences, the ACC gets a team.

The ACC will likely get more than nine bowls, however. Start with Clemson, who if they win out will elevate to the College Football Playoff and open up the Orange Bowl spot. It’s important to note that the ACC is guaranteed a spot there no matter how..we’ll say balanced...the conference has been, and for that game Notre Dame is not considered an ACC team. In fact, the opponent in that game could be Notre Dame, as well as someone from the SEC or the Big 10. So, at minimum, the ACC likely gets ten. Notre Dame is also eligible to go as an at large team to the Cotton Bowl, although one of those spots is going to go to the Group of Five qualifier.

But wait, there’s more! The ACC is going to hope that the Orange Bowl wants to take a Big 10 team as the opponent, because if they do it elevates an ACC team to the Citrus Bowl. It’s a real possibility as the Big Ten has five teams in the CFP top 20.

In sum: if everything works out perfectly, the ACC can get a maximum of thirteen bowl slots. Doing the math, the maximum amount of teams going to the ACC pool would be thirteen.

It’s also worth noting that with the sheer number of bowl games, the chances that an ACC team would be left home if they qualify are near zero.

Are there any other rules we should know?

Yes! The ACC also has it in their contracts that their bowls can’t leave a two win “better” team behind. Basically, all of the eight win teams have to be going to a bowl game before you take a 6-6 team, the nine win teams need to be taken before you take a 7-5 team, and so forth. Honestly, this rule is to make sure a team like Wake Forest, who could finish 9-3, doesn’t get left out simply because they don’t travel as well as say, an FSU.

OK, So what can we realistically expect?

In short, a Tier 1 game is still in play for Carolina, even at 6-6. A bowl is welcome to take a 6-6 team over a 7-5 squad, so the real issue is this: will all of the eight win and over teams get a spot before a bowl would consider Carolina?

I could go over all the scenarios for you, but I’ll make it simple: there are a lot of “ifs” but it is absolutely possible that the dominoes will fall in a way to where all of the possible eight win teams would go to a Tier 1 bowl and leave an opening or two for one of them to take a 6-6 team over a 7-5 squad.

What should I root for?

Root to win the last two games and be able to go to a bowl, period. Considering where this program was, that alone is a huge accomplishment and the extra practices that the team would get by going would be bigger than the bowl game itself.

But if you want the status of going to a Tier 1 bowl:

  • Root for Clemson to at least win against South Carolina to where if they lose the ACCCG they’d likely still go to the Cotton Bowl
  • Root for Notre Dame to win their last two by as much as they did Saturday to where they go up the CFP rankings and either go to the Orange or Cotton Bowls and aren’t part of the ACC Pool
  • Root against both Virginia and Virginia Tech this weekend as they play each other the week after that, guaranteeing that one will be at least 8-4
  • Root against Pittsburgh, Miami, and Wake Forest until they lose a game and can’t finish better than 7-5. The more 7-5 teams, the less that have to go to a Tier 1 game before Carolina can go.
  • Root for the Big Ten to continue to be strong, and for two SEC teams to make the CFP, as a third would be guaranteed to go to the Sugar Bowl, increasing the likelihood that the Orange would take a Big Ten team.

We should have a better idea after this weekend’s games how good those chances are for Carolina. Again, the most important thing is to win and be happy with wherever the Tar Heels end up going. Going into the season, a bowl game would be considered a successful season and it’s absolutely the case now.

But there’s nothing wrong with hoping for the best spot possible.