Winter is coming. And for the first time in 18 years, winter does not mean an early end to the college football season for Duke.
In just 18 days, the Blue Devils will receive an invitation to play in their first bowl game since 1994. Not only will this mark the culmination of Duke’s most successful season in two decades, but it will also unscramble the ACC into its final postseason alignment.
But until Dec. 2, the guesses of college football pundits are as good as yours when it comes to projecting where the ACC teams will end up come bowl season.
One of the reasons for this uncertainty is that the ACC will not likely fill all of its bowl contracts this season. The conference currently has agreements with eight bowl games, but with two games remaining in the year, only four ACC teams—Duke, Florida State, Clemson and N.C. State—are currently bowl eligible. Boston College has already been knocked out of bowl contention after a dismal 2-8 start, and North Carolina is ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA infractions.
Virginia and Virginia Tech are each one loss away from losing their bowl eligibility as well—one of those dominos is guaranteed to fall when the Cavaliers and Hokies square off in Blacksburg, Va. on Nov. 24, and Virginia needs a win over North Carolina this weekend to have a shot at bowl eligibility.
Maryland still has a shot at bowl eligibility... mathematically. But to make it to 6-6 the Terrapins will need to post back-to-back victories against Florida State and North Carolina. Let’s just cross that one off our list.
So under those conservative assumptions, the ACC can have at most eight bowl eligible teams this year, but those who are fighting for one of the four remaining bowl contracts will need major help to get there.
Wake Forest sits at 5-5, needing to win one of its two remaining non-conference matchups to go bowling this season. The Demon Deacons, however, will have to defeat either third-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. or a sneaky Vanderbilt squad, which has posted a 4-3 record in the powerhouse SEC this season and is riding a four-game winning streak.
Duke’s next opponent, Georgia Tech, faces a must-win game when the Blue Devils travel to Atlanta this weekend. If the Yellow Jackets can defend their home turf, they will have a shot at the ACC Championship game if Duke beats Miami in its final game of the season. If the Blue Devils come out on top this weekend, Georgia Tech needs to beat in-state rival Georgia, who will represent the SEC East in its conference championship game.
And then we have Miami, who needs a victory against South Florida at home this weekend or against the Blue Devils in Durham Nov. 24, and will likely make it to six wins. But that might not mean bowl eligibility for the Hurricanes, who still await the outcome of the Nevin Shapiro investigation by the NCAA and could be deemed bowl ineligible this season. Miami has a difficult decision to make over the next two weeks, and could self-impose a bowl ban in order to lessen penalties by the NCAA. This issue will be discussed ad nauseum over the next two weeks, especially since the Coastal Division title could be hanging in the balance as the Hurricanes enter the final week of the season.
So when the dust settles, the ACC may end up with only five or six bowl eligible teams—so what does that mean for Duke? The Blue Devils’ ultimate bowl destination will depend on both their performance and that of other teams—most notably Clemson—in the season’s final two weeks.
The ACC’s eight bowl contracts will select bowl-eligible teams in just under three weeks. BCS bowl games are given priority, starting with the Discover Orange Bowl, which will receive the ACC Champion. Given Clemson’s resurgence back into the BCS picture, the Tigers may earn the ACC a second BCS slot with a bid to the Sugar Bowl. Should this happen, it will most certainly open up better bowl possibilities for the Blue Devils.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta receives the next choice, and will likely take the Tigers, should the Sugar Bowl not come calling. A representative from the game attended Clemson’s thrashing of Duke two weeks ago and likely paid keen attention to the large number of fans willing to attend away games. Should Clemson make a BCS game, Miami could be the next choice for the Chick-fil-A bowl—if they do not self-impose a ban—but otherwise Duke could potentially sneak into a major bowl game against an SEC opponent.
If the Blue Devils were to win their remaining two games and make it to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, N.C., they would be guaranteed at least a trip to the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. or the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, which hold the next two selections. Should they not make the ACC Championship game, many believe that Duke could be invited to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, which holds the conference’s fifth choice due to its proximity to the Triangle, though that same situation applies to N.C. State in Raleigh. If the Wolfpack are selected instead of the Blue Devils, the next option would be the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn.
So if you’re trying to book early travel plans to Duke’s bowl game, don’t bother asking an expert—chances are they know just as much as you do. Two more wild weekends will provide only limited clarity to what has been a year to remember in the ACC.