With North Carolina (6-4) banned from postseason due to NCAA sanctions, the conference has no realistic chance of filling its eight contracted bowl slots – one with the Bowl Championship Series and seven with secondary games.
That will leave mid-major conferences such as the Mid-American and Mountain West to replace ACC teams.
If neither the Hokies nor Cavaliers win out, there’s a remote possibility that the ACC could have just four bowl teams, unheard of for a 12-school league – the conference last had four bowls teams in 1997, when membership was nine.
But before explaining how postseason Armageddon could strike, here are the ACC’s team-by-team prospects for attaining the six necessary victories for bowl eligibility.
Everyone else has work left, some considerable.
Miami (5-5) needs at least a split of remaining games against 3-6 South Florida (home) and Duke (road). Surely the Hurricanes can get that done.
Similarly, Wake Forest (5-5) is one victory shy, with dates left against 10-0 Notre Dame (road) and 6-4 Vanderbilt (home). Hard to imagine the Deacons hanging with the Irish, and the Commodores will be a chore as well for a team struggling mightily on offense.
Georgia Tech (5-5) has games remaining against Duke at home and Georgia (9-1) on the road. The Yellow Jackets’ 15-year bowl streak will be in serious jeopardy if they stumble against the Blue Devils.
Maryland (4-6) must sweep Florida State at home and North Carolina on the road. Not going to happen.
Virginia (4-6) must defeat visiting North Carolina on Thursday and Virginia Tech on the road Nov. 24. Winners of two straight after a six-game losing streak, the Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Hokies since 2003.
Virginia Tech (4-6) needs to beat Boston College on the road and Virginia at home to receive a 20th consecutive bowl bid. The Hokies haven’t won back-to-back games against Bowl Subdivision opponents this season.
Technically, the ACC could get to eight bowl-eligible teams. But without a healthy scholarship quarterback, Maryland will be practice fodder against Florida State.
The ACC would take seven in a heartbeat, but even then could be unable to fill two of its bowls, if Clemson closes with wins over N.C. State and South Carolina and receives an at-large Bowl Championship Series bid, likely to the Sugar.
The worst-case scenario for the ACC is Miami self-imposing a bowl ban to mitigate expected NCAA sanctions over the Nevin Shapiro scandal, plus Maryland, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Virginia and Virginia Tech failing to qualify.
If the ACC had just four eligible teams, and if Florida State and Clemson both went to the BCS, the conference would be able to accommodate only the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta and Russell Athletic in Orlando, Fla., that with N.C. State and Duke, likely in that order.
The ACC’s remaining partners – Sun, Belk, Music City, Independence and Military – would be left scrambling.
And even if Georgia Tech qualifies at 6-6, there’s a chance the Yellow Jackets would need an NCAA waiver to play in a bowl. That’s because Georgia Tech remains in contention to win the ACC’s Coastal Division and a berth in the conference championship game.
A defeat there, to Florida State, would leave the Jackets below .500 at 6-7 and require the NCAA dispensation, granted last season to UCLA, when the 6-6 Bruins lost the Pacific 12 title contest to Oregon.
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