Five bowls are credentialed to attend Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Virginia game. That a handful of postseason scouts deem it necessary to observe the 5-6 Hokies on Thanksgiving weekend speaks volumes.
Indeed, it’s been a peculiar year not only in the ACC but also nationally, rendering annual bowl projections more perilous than usual.
The glut of postseason events — 35, most instantly forgettable — and dearth of eligible teams likely will mean bids for every 6-6 squad and, perhaps a 6-7, or even a few 5-7s, the latter based on Academic Progress Rates.
Blame parity. Blame NCAA sanctions or the threat thereof.
Four otherwise eligible programs, the ACC’s Miami and North Carolina and Big Ten’s Ohio State and Penn State, are banned from bowls, the former pair directly affecting Virginia Tech.
So if the Hokies, who have reached postseason 19 consecutive years, beat Virginia to gain the sixth victory needed for eligibility, where might they head? And what of the outside chance of them qualifying at 5-7?
“I think it’s impossible,” Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said of handicapping the Hokies’ possible postseason destination.
Ah, but we must try.
The five bowls scouting Saturday’s game are Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A, Orlando’s Russell Athletic, El Paso’s Sun, Charlotte’s Belk and Washington, D.C.’s Military. The ACC-affiliated bowls not attending are Miami’s Orange, Shreveport’s Independence and Nashville’s Music City.
Five conference teams — Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech and Duke — are bowl-eligible. Virginia Tech and Wake Forest (home against 7-4 Vanderbilt) must win Saturday.
So let’s go in pecking order:
* Orange (Jan. 1, 8 p.m.): The winner of the Florida State-Georgia Tech ACC championship game Dec. 1 heads to South Beach. Suffice to say, bowl and television suits prefer the Seminoles (10-1 pending Saturday’s game against Florida) to the Yellow Jackets (6-5 entering Saturday’s game at Georgia).
* BCS at-large: If Clemson defeats South Carolina on Saturday to complete the regular season 11-1, the Tigers are a strong candidate to give the ACC a second consecutive at-large — the Sugar Bowl surprisingly chose 10-2 Virginia Tech last year.
* Chick-fil-A (Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., vs. SEC): Of the possible bowls for Virginia Tech, this is the least likely. If the BCS bypasses Clemson, the Tigers land here. If Clemson is unavailable, the choices hinge on Saturday’s results.
At 7-5 with a victory over Boston College on Saturday, North Carolina State would be a viable candidate. As hometown Georgia Tech would be, but only if the Jackets upset Georgia and are 7-6. Duke (6-5) also could slide into the mix with a victory over visiting Miami on Saturday.
* Russell Athletic (Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m., vs. Big East): The Hokies’ first Orlando bowl appearance is probable only if Clemson receives a BCS at-large and N.C. State goes to Atlanta. If Clemson goes to the Chick-fil-A, and N.C. State defeats Boston College, the Wolfpack is almost certain to play here.
* Sun (Dec. 31, 2 p.m., vs. Pacific 12): Conference policy says the league title game loser can not fall below the Sun. But Georgia Tech played in El Paso last year and could be 6-7, presuming losses to Georgia and Florida State. Those circumstances could prompt an arrangement that sends the Hokies here.
Given Virginia Tech’s disappointing record, few fans figure to travel in postseason regardless, so El Paso might not be all bad, especially if the Pac-12 opponent were Southern California.
* Belk (Dec. 27, 5:30 p.m., vs. Big East): Given Duke’s small fan base, Charlotte is the Blue Devils’ most convenient destination. If Duke beats Miami and goes earlier, Virginia Tech could land here.
* Music City (Dec. 31, noon, vs. SEC): The Hokies played in the inaugural game, routing Alabama 37-6 in 1998, a precursor to their national title game appearance a year later. Hard to imagine the Music City passing on Virginia Tech if it’s available.
* Independence (Dec. 28, 2 p.m., vs SEC): Unless Wake Forest and Virginia Tech win, and the BCS passes on Clemson, the ACC will be unable to fill this slot. The Deacons would be the most likely team here.
* Military (Dec. 27, 3 p.m., vs. service academy): Barring the bowl chaos described below, no ACC representative will be available.
Chaos ensues if 70 teams aren’t eligible by the usual standards. Thus far, 62 have cleared the low bar, with more than a dozen capable of joining them.
If eight more squads don’t qualify, the NCAA will consider 5-7 teams with the highest Academic Progress Rates. The possible 5-7s with the best APRs are Rice, Wake Forest, Missouri, Virginia Tech and Connecticut.
If the Hokies backdoor into postseason this way, there’s no telling where they’d play.
And just remember this when bowl forecasting: After Tech lost last season’s ACC championship game to Clemson, neither Weaver nor coach Frank Beamer thought the Sugar Bowl bid that came the following day remotely possible.
Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!
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