For the last couple of weeks, we’ve made a point to highlight a lot of new to the ACC Bowl lineup. There are either brand new bowls, bowls hosting the ACC for the first time, or bowls with brand new names. This week, though, is a bunch of the old familiar, though there is one more change to go over.
As discussed previously, the ACC has changed up the selection order with its bowls, and the best way to think about the ones we’ve talked about after the NY6 through today is the new “Tier 1” but there is a lot less in terms of exact parameters for selection. In the end, it’s a lot more like how the SEC grouping of bowls had been, in that it’s this nebulous combination of geography, worthiness, and preference amongst the prestigious games. These guys will work out amongst themselves who they want, and now that includes a bowl Tar Heel fans should be very familiar with.
Location: Annapolis, MD
I don’t really have to go over the history of this bowl for you, do I? We are all familiar with this bad boy, and in the before times when people had barely heard of “Covid,” the 55-13 Tar Heel win last December was a reason fans were riding high going into 2020. That momentum kept going with strong success on the recruiting trail. As someone who went to the game, the environment was sneaky good. You’re in close proximity to Washington DC, which is underrated as a destination city for visiting, and the actual environment around the game is very “Go America.”
The change this year is that the Military Bowl has been elevated into this tier with the other games, giving it a chance to pick with everyone else instead of having to wait for the leftovers. It’s worth noting that this arrangement had been set prior to Carolina’s arrival last year, but with the game being geographically close for so many ACC teams, it should no longer feel like a “runner-up” type of game that it had prior to this season. It’ll still be a matchup with a team against the American, which should be entertaining as they always want to try to show they can play with the Power Five. As Carolina was just in this game, chances are pretty low they’ll get another invite here in the near future.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Location: New York, NY
Time really flies, doesn’t it? It’s amazing to think that they’ve actually played ten of these games in the Big Apple, with the 2020 version seeing Michigan State beating Wake Forest. While most people prefer to escape to warmer climates for a bowl game, you can’t ask for much better than the opportunity to visit New York City at any time of the year, and especially during the holidays when everything is lit up. Just make sure to build in extra time to shuffle past the really big tree in Rockefeller Center, and save up your money for hotel rooms as they tend to be a wee bit expensive that time of year.
This bowl holds a bit of a unique distinction for Carolina fans as it’s one of the “older” bowls in the ACC rotation that has yet to invite the Tar Heels. Now, a lot of that is due to the fact that since the the bowl in New Yankee Stadium has been a member of the group, the stars just haven’t aligned to where Carolina could go. Last year may have been their best shot, but a lot of the rules revolving around protecting teams with good record went agains the Tar Heels, thus resulting in them going to Annapolis. Just like in Boston, the New York City area is home to a ton of Carolina fans, and an invite here would be a great chance for local fans to see their team live. Look no further than the ACC Tournament played in Brooklyn, as both years saw a lot of Carolina blue in the stands. You have to think sooner or later, the Tar Heels will be going to the city that never sleeps.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
It’s amazing to think it’s been 22 years since the Tar Heels have played down in Jacksonville, because there was a stretch in the 90’s where Carolina was making a second home in North Florida. The game has hosted the Tar Heels seven times, by far the most of any other bowl, and they were there three times in the 90’s, including the introduction to the Carl Torbush Era in 1998. Let me tell you, as the Tar Heels demolished Virginia Tech that day and we were all pointing at the media booth and chanting “TOR-BUSH! TOR-BUSH! TOR-BUSH!” we all thought there would be zero drop off from Mack Brown to him.
Anyway, the Gator Bowl has shifted its affiliations around since then, and most recently had been rotating between the SEC, and ACC. They are now guaranteed to take an ACC team again, and it will always be an SEC team on the other side of the field. Thus, it promises to be a fun game with a Florida location, even if it isn’t at the top of a lot of lists. This game is a real possibility considering how long it’s been since they’ve seen the Tar Heels, and the potential fun matchup against the SEC it could provide.
As camps open up and we are month away from the start of the ACC season, hopefully, we’ll finish up our bowl preview by taking a look at the other “Group of Three” bowls that can take an ACC team once the other spots have been filled.