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UNC Football: Bowl Scenarios for Championship Weekend

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After a weekend where things went as well as they could, the picture is far from clear.

South Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Last weekend, we went over where Carolina stood in terms of the quest for a bowl game and what you should root for if you wanted Carolina to make it to a Tier 1 bowl.

It went about as perfectly as you could ask. Carolina won, which was the most important part, but then Louisville and Pittsburgh both lost. Why is that important? Well, let’s take a look a the bowl qualifiers:

Clemson: 12-0, vs UVa in Charlotte

Notre Dame: 10-2 (considered an ACC member after the NY6)

Virginia: 9-3, vs Clemson in Charlotte

Virginia Tech: 8-4

Wake Forest: 8-4

Pittsburgh: 7-5

Louisville: 7-5

UNC: 6-6

Florida State: 6-6

Miami: 6-6

Boston College: 6-6

So, there are only five teams with eight wins or more that have to go to a bowl before Carolina is allowed to be picked. Even if a travesty happens and Clemson loses, thus falling to the Camping World Bowl, there would still be a Tier 1 spot open. With everyone expecting Clemson to go on to the CFP, that means there are likely two spots in Tier 1 that Carolina could slip into. With that in mind, let’s look at the current bowl projection set. Thanks to Inside Carolina for compiling all of these but the Athletic and SI.

CBS (Via Jerry Palm): Military Bowl vs. Navy

ESPN (Via Kyle Bonagura): Military Bowl vs. Navy

ESPN (Via Mark Schlabach): Pinstripe Bowl vs. Indiana

24/7 Sports (Via Brad Crawford): Belk Bowl vs. Southern Miss

Athlon (Via Steven Lassan): Pinstripe Bowl vs. Michigan State

N&O (Via Joe Giglio): Military vs...someone

Yahoo (Via Nick Bromberg): Military vs. Temple

Bleacher Report (Via Kerry Miller): Independence vs. Florida Atlantic

CollegeFootballNews.com: Military vs. Navy

The Athletic (Via Stewart Mandel (($))) Military vs. Navy

The Ghost of Sports Illustrated (Via Michael Shapiro): Quick Lane vs. Michigan State

As you can see, the predictions almost seem to come to a consensus on the Military, with a couple of Pinstripe mentions and one apiece for the Belk, Independence, and Quick Lane bowls.

So, where will Carolina end up? Look out, we’re getting into the weeds here.

The bowl Carolina will go to has a lot to do with who the opponent is that the ACC will face in the Orange Bowl. Via Joe Giglio, who has literally spent years going over all of the ACC bowl contract languages and still has to call for clarification once in a while, the Orange is supposed to take the highest ranked remaining team in the CFP Rankings of the SEC, Big 10, or Notre Dame. Right now, that opponent would be Penn State, because Ohio State, LSU, and Georgia would presumably go to the CFP, Wisconsin slides into the Rose Bowl, Florida slides into the Sugar Bowl, and this would leave the Nittany Lions for Miami. Further, when a Big 10 team goes to the Orange Bowl, an ACC team gets the Big 10’s bowl spot in the Citrus Bowl.

The problem is, well, LSU and Georgia play each other this weekend and most expect LSU to win in a rout (they’re only favored by a touchdown, though). The way the rankings are set up with Utah, Oklahoma, and Baylor, it’s unlikely the two-loss Bulldogs would get to go to the CFP in favor of a one-loss conference champ. Notre Dame is stuck behind teams that won’t play this weekend, so they won’t move into that Orange Bowl spot, and as one Group of Five team has to go to Dallas and the Cotton Bowl, it’s unlikely the Irish take the other open spot in favor of another spurned team. So, Notre Dame likely goes to the Camping World Bowl, leaving two eight-win teams that have to go to the Tier 1 bowls. As for those reports that Carolina could go to the Camping World? Forget it. Giglio confirmed the two win rule applies to all of the ACC Bowls, and the math just doesn’t work to get all the eight-win and over teams to a bowl before the Camping World can select.

Still, two chances to get into the Tier 1 and a great story should make Carolina a lock, right? Not really. Giglio also reported that the Pinstripe and Wake Forest appear to be courting each other, and I would trust his sources amongst the others making bowl predictions because he’s plugged into the ACC bowls like few others. If we take that at his word, then Louisville and Virginia Tech would likely be more attractive to the Music City and Belk, respectively, because of both their fan bases and geography. That leaves the Sun if Carolina wants a Tier 1, which is possible, but would they want the Tar Heels after just having them in 2016, and would Carolina want to go if they know they can go to a closer game in Annapolis, Maryland?

But wait..there’s more! Both of the contractual opponents in the Music City and Belk are the SEC, and there’s a chance Kentucky would end up in Nashville. If that were to happen, then Louisville wouldn’t go there as they just met the Wildcats last weekend. That spot opening up could be Carolina’s, or the Belk could be theirs as well.

All of this adds up to a pretty fuzzy picture with some clear parts. I’d describe it as a Polaroid that is a minute or two out of the camera, but I wonder how many of you reading would know what in the world I’m talking about. Anyway, the writing on the wall for Carolina is that they likely won’t slide past the Military, with a chance to politick their way into any of the other Tier 1 bowls depending on what the other bowl organizers want.

Let’s say you really want a Tier 1, just because you want to walk into your office and say that Mack Brown got Carolina in a Tier 1, or because you happen to want to go to Nashville or (like me because I live in Boston) New York City. If that’s the case, what do you need to see this weekend?

Honestly, it’s pretty simple. At this point, LSU has banked enough good wins and goodwill to where if Georgia springs the upset, the Bulldogs are likely playing in the CFP. That creates the scenario where a Big 10 team goes to Miami, and the ACC (or in this case, Notre Dame) gets a spot in the Citrus Bowl. That frees up the Camping World to take Virginia Tech or Wake Forest, which means only one other team needs a home in Tier 1. The extra spot could be just what the other bowls need to sort out the order amongst themselves to get Carolina to one of them. Oregon beating Utah wouldn't hurt, and neither would Baylor beating Oklahoma if only because they’d have to do a lot of jumping to get into the CFP, but as far as the ACC is concerned, their bowls hinge on the results of the SEC title game.

No matter which game they go to, enjoy it, fans. It’s been three hard seasons since we’ve been able to sit by our TV’s on CFP Sunday and eagerly await where we will end up. All of the scenarios out there have Carolina going to a game that’ll likely bring a good amount of fans and a good opponent, and the extra practices will be huge for this team to use as a springboard for next year.

Saturday Morning Update

As games get played, clarity starts to happen. As was just alluded to, the Oregon victory over Utah does affect the ACC bowls, for for that we go to Joe Giglio:

This matters for Carolina. If the Belk is aiming to get Appalachian State, then they are honed in on either Virginia Tech or Wake Forest as the opponent, which increases the likelihood that Kentucky goes to the Music City. As they would want to avoid a rematch, Kentucky in Nashville increases the chances that Carolina goes there.

That said, the best chance for Carolina to go to a Tier 1 still appears to be for the ACC to get the extra spot afforded them with a Big 10 team going to the Orange, opening up the Citrus. The only way that happens is with Georgia beating LSU. That extra spot likely opens up the Camping World Bowl for either Virginia Tech or Wake Forest, and the other eight win team then would be ticketed for the Belk to face the Mountaineers. That means the Pinstripe opens up, as does the Music City depending on where Kentucky gos.

Thus, boiled down: Georgia wins, Carolina is likely headed to a Tier 1. If LSU wins, you’re likely looking at a Military Bowl birth with an outside shot at the Music City.

And all of this will probably be wrong tomorrow.