Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bowl outlook: Gator in play for Heels

With three straight ACC wins, North Carolina has put itself in a no-lose bowl situation.

With two more wins, and the right breaks, the Tar Heels could end up in the Gator Bowl. Even with a loss, and the wrong breaks, the Heels could still wind up in the Music City Bowl.

That's how much has changed for the Tar Heels (7-3 overall, 3-3 ACC) in a month. Before rattling off wins over Virginia Tech, Duke and Miami, the Heels had more wins over the Southern Conference (2-0) than the ACC (0-3).

Any bowl would have been welcomed after blowing an 18-point lead in a 30-27 loss to Florida State on Oct. 22 and falling to 4-3 overall. With three straight wins, the Heels have worked their way into the mix for the Gator.

First things first, UNC needs to win out. That means beating Boston College and N.C. State on the road. If UNC plays the way it did against Miami, Duke or Virginia Tech, the Heels will beat both BC and State.

That would put them at 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the ACC.

Like every bowl scenario, there are a lot of variables, but the winner of the ACC title game will shape how the dominoes fall.

Bowl Date GT wins Clemson wins
Orange Jan. 5 GT Clemson
Chick-fil-A Dec. 31 Clemson VT
Gator Jan. 1 UNC GT
ChampsDec. 29 VT FSU
Music City Dec. 27 FSU UNC
Meineke Dec. 26 Miami Miami
Emerald Dec. 26 BC BC

If Georgia Tech, which finished its conference schedule at 7-1 and won the Coastal Division, wins the ACC title game on Dec. 5 in Tampa, that would open up the Gator Bowl for either UNC or Virginia Tech.

GT would go to the Orange, Clemson, after losing the title game, would go to the Chick-fil-A and that would leave the Gator the choice of either UNC or VT, both teams would be 9-3 overall.

The Gator, in the final year of its contract with the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and Notre Dame, is likely to choose the Fighting Irish (6-4), unless coach Charlie Weiss if fired before the bowl game on Jan. 1, as the opponent.

Which ACC team would make a more attractive matchup? Depends on the viewpoint.

Normally, VT would sell more tickets than UNC, but there are two factors working against the Hokies -- their lackluster finish and their frequent travel to the state of Florida.

Virginia Tech was ranked No. 4 in the country on Oct. 17 before a two-game losing streak knocked them out of the Coastal race and into the bottom third of the top 25. How excited is the fan base, which had visions of sneaking into the BCS title game, going to be about another Gator Bowl trip?

Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hokies have made six postseason trips to Florida -- the Orange Bowl in 2008 and 2007, the Gator Bowl in 2005 and the ACC title game in 2008 (Tampa), 2007 (Jacksonville) and 2005 (Jacksonville).

UNC, which is closing with a bullet, hasn't been to Gator Bowl, or Florida for a neutral site game, since the 1997 season.

Plus, UNC and Notre Dame played an exciting game in Chapel Hill, a 29-24 UNC win, last season, which could add some interest to the game from Notre Dame's perspective.

If Georgia Tech loses the ACC title game, that changes the equation. At 7-1, GT can't be jumped by 5-3 team. That means the Jackets have to be picked before UNC.

Since GT played in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year, VT, at 6-2, would likely go to Atlanta, leaving GT in the Gator.

That would put the Champs in position to choose from UNC (projected 5-3), FSU (4-4) or Miami (5-3) and it would be hard to say no to what could potentially be Bobby Bowden's last game, even though the Champs hosted FSU last year.

That would likely push the Heels to Nashville for the Music City, against an SEC team on Dec. 27 and that's not a bad Plan B.

There's a possibility, if UNC loses to BC and BC finishes 6-2, the best UNC could do is a return trip to Charlotte, but that's a worst-case scenario.

There's also a possbility of BC winning the Atlantic, but we can cross that bridge if in the unlikely event Clemson stumbles at home against Virginia.

-- J.P. Giglio


The Reid said...

J.P., what do you think the chances are of Georgia Tech getting an at large BCS bid if they lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game?