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2021 ACC Bowl Selections Primer

With UNC out of the CFP and NY6 discussion, where exactly could they go?

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Michigan State vs Wake Forest Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With a win this weekend, Carolina is going to earn its sixth win and become bowl eligible for the third straight year. There was a lot of intrigue two years ago about where they’d go, last year was all about hoping the chips fall into place to go to the Orange Bowl, so what exactly are things looking like this year?

We haven’t talked bowls in a while here because of all of this confusion, but with projections starting to take shape it’s worth understanding just how much things have changed since both last year and 2019. First off, a few bowls have been swapped out, the CFP semis are being played at the Orange Bowl, and the selection order is a lot more nebulous than before.

Let’s take a minute to peruse the bowl info provided by the good folks over at the ACC:


The ACC Champion is guaranteed a slot in the NY6 Bowls. It’s usually the Orange Bowl, however this year the Orange Bowl is hosting a semi final, and since there’s no chance an ACC team will be in the CFP, they’ll likely go to the Peach Bowl.

After That

Up until last season, you had to understand this nebulous pecking order of the second Orlando Bowl, the Citrus Bowl, Tier Ones, Tier Twos, and so forth. Now, it’s a lot muddier but easier to explain at the same time.

The ACC has eleven bowls after the CFP that have partnered with them to provide a spot, eight of them get the first picks. Those eight are:

  • Military Bowl, 12/27, Annapolis, MD
  • Holiday Bowl, 12/28, San Diego, CA
  • Fenway Bowl, 12/29, Boston, MA
  • Pinstripe Bowl, 12/29, New York, NY
  • Cheez It Bowl, 12/30, Orlando, FL
  • Duke’s Mayo Bowl, 12/30, Charlotte, NC
  • Gator Bowl, 12/31, Jacksonville, FL
  • Sun Bowl, 12/31, El Paso, TX

Now, unlike past seasons, these eight basically just work it out with themselves to figure out who they will take, likely with some conference input. The system is a little bit fairer in that it doesn’t handcuff a bowl to a particular team, and allows some flexibility for a bowl to create the best matchup. Presumably, there’s no pecking order as they all have equal weight, however there will clearly be some “I’ll scratch your back this time, you get me next year” situations. The process is actually familiar to other conferences, as the SEC basically runs this way, too.

There are also three bowls that can offer a bid, but only one ACC team is guaranteed a spot:

  • Gasparilla Bowl, Tampa, FL, 12/23
  • Birmingham Bowl, Birmingham, AL, 12/28
  • First Responders Bowl, Dallas, TX 12/28

The Bowl Eligible Pool

Before the games this weekend, here’s who’s already qualified for a bowl:

  • Wake Forest
  • Clemson
  • NC State
  • Boston College
  • Pitt
  • Virginia

Here are the 5-5 teams who just have to win one more time to hit the magic number:

  • UNC
  • Louisville
  • Syracuse
  • Miami
  • Virginia Tech

Plus there’s one team at 4-6 that could win out:

  • Florida State

So the maximum number of teams that’ll be eligible for a bowl from the ACC is twelve, and eleven are guaranteed a spot. It’s unlikely if the ACC hits that number one would sit out, the question is who rises to the level of the first eight and who has to sweat out the second round spots. All that said, with a win this weekend UNC can count on going to a bowl game for various reasons.

Which bowl though? Right now projections are all over the map, to the point where no one really knows much of anything. You can find folks with Carolina going to San Diego, Charlotte, New York, and Boston. Part of the issue could be that for the first time in a while, no one knows who the ACC is going to send to the NY6. If it ends up being a Pittsburgh vs Wake Forest title game, the loser of that game could be more attractive to one bowl, while a different loser might look better to another game, all of which affects the dominoes.

This weekend should start to bring the old “bowl representatives are in the press box” messages, and we can start to get some clarity about where the Tar Heels are being pegged. It’s also likely that things will swap around a lot until things are settled, as remember back in 2019 the SEC didn’t get theirs settled till literally the last minute.

So if you want to travel to a bowl game, do you need to plan on packing a coat or shorts? At this point, who knows? Keep an eye out though, as we should find out more soon.