With the new playoff format coming to college football in 2014, that means many bowl deals across the country have been restructured, or will be restructured soon. What does that mean for the ACC and Virginia Tech?
Stewart Mandel wrote an article for SI.com yesterday that updated the bowl situation for all conferences. Before we get into that, let’s recap what’s going on at the national level.
There will now be six “major” bowl games that will be in rotation to serve as the national semifinals in the new four-team playoff format: the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Obviously there will be a seventh major game as well, when the winners of the two semifinal games meet for the National Championship.
In January 2015, the semifinal games will be the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. In 2016, they will be the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl. In 2017, they will be the Fiesta Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl. Bowls that don’t host semifinal games will be regular BCS-like bowl games.
The Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl don’t have tie-ins to specific conferences, and they will be able to choose at-large teams. What would these big six bowl games have looked like in a past season? Let’s see what would have happened following the 2011 season.
A selection committee of 14-20 people will determine which teams advance to the four-team playoff in future seasons. I assume those committee members will use things such as record, conference record, strength of schedule, computer rankings, head-to-head meetings and gut feel to determine the four teams that should make the playoffs. I’m going to be completely uncreative and say they would have picked the three teams that finished in the top three of the BCS standings in 2011. They also would have taken 11-2 Oregon or 11-1 Stanford, because the Ducks won the Pac-12 Championship. Using the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl as the semifinal games, here is how things could have shaken out:
Sugar Bowl: #1 LSU vs. #4 Oregon
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oklahoma State
It’s possible that those matchups could be flip-flopped, with Bama and Oklahoma State playing in the Sugar, and LSU and Oregon going to the Rose, but it doesn’t really matter. Those are the four playoff teams, and those are the two bowls.
That leaves us with four bowls to fill: the Orange, Cotton, Chick-fil-A and Fiesta. Only one of those bowls has a conference tie-in, and that’s the Orange. The Clemson Tigers would head to the Orange Bowl, because they won the ACC Championship. They would face either a Big Ten team or an SEC team. That would send either Arkansas (10-2) or Wisconsin (10-2) to Miami to face Clemson. I’ll go ahead and assume that they would pick Arkansas.
That leaves three bowls and six spots remaining, with about seven teams that would be reasonable choices.
Boise State (11-1)
Kansas State (10-2)
South Carolina (10-2)
Virginia Tech (11-2)
The remaining bowls are the Cotton, Chick-fil-A and Fiesta. Keep in mind that Boise State is guaranteed a spot in one of those three games because they were the highest ranked team from the smaller conferences. Let’s assign a random selection order: the Chick-fil-A picks first, followed by the Cotton Bowl, followed by the Fiesta Bowl.
Chick-fil-A: Do you take the highest ranked team, or the team that makes sense regionally? I think the Chick-fil-A people would go with South Carolina. That would be a great pick for the city of Atlanta.
Cotton: Dallas isn’t really near anyone remaining on that list. I think they would have gone with the team with the biggest fan base: Michigan.
Fiesta: Andrew Luck and #4 Stanford head to Tempe for the Fiesta Bowl.
That leaves us with three spots, and four potential picks: Boise State, Kansas State, Wisconsin and Virginia Tech.
Chick-fil-A: Kansas State and Boise State would not make sense for a matchup with South Carolina in Atlanta. Virginia Tech would make the most sense. But, realistically that’s not an option. Boise State is going to fall all the way to the last pick no matter how you slice it, and the Cotton Bowl will not pit Wisconsin vs. Michigan because they’re in the same league. I think deals would get made, and Wisconsin would head to Atlanta to face South Carolina.
Cotton: The natural pick for the Cotton Bowl would be Kansas State.
Fiesta: The Fiesta would be required to pick Boise State.
That would give us the following six matchups.
Fiesta: Stanford vs. Boise State
Cotton: Michigan vs. Kansas State
Chick-fil-A: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
Orange: Clemson vs. Arkansas
Rose: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oklahoma State
Sugar: #1 LSU vs. #4 Oregon
Unfortunately, that scenario would leave the Hokies as the odd team out, but again, those are just guesses on how things would have turned out. I could be completely wrong. If they did turn out that way, Tech would have dropped to the ACC’s #2 bowl spot, which obviously is no longer the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The ACC Lineup
The Russell Athletic Bowl is poised to move up the ACC tier and take over the #2 spot, according to Mandel’s article. Apparently the opponent will be either the #3 or the #4 school from the Big 12. That would have given the Hokies a matchup in Orlando with either Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor (9-3), or the Oklahoma Sooners (9-3).
That would have been a pretty good consolation prize, for me at least. There’s nothing wrong with spending a few days in sunny Florida in preparation for a meeting with a top 15 team in a game that a lot of people are going to watch. It sure beats the heck out of going down there to play Rutgers.
Unfortunately, the rest of the league’s bowl schedule is not quite as appealing on paper.
3-5: Music City/Gator
The ACC is apparently going to share the Music City and the Gator Bowl with the Big Ten. Each conference will go to each game three times in a six year span, and the opponent for both the Music City and Gator would be an SEC opponent. Depending on how many SEC teams make the playoffs, or one of the other big bowl games, these matchups could either be boring or exciting depending on the year. In 2011, possible opponents would have been Auburn, Mississippi State and Florida, who were all very mediocre teams during the regular season.
The Belk Bowl in Charlotte is also likely to be against an SEC opponent. Again, one of Auburn, Mississippi State and Florida would have been the likely opponent back in 2011. The Pinstripe Bowl would pit an ACC foe against a lower tier Big Ten opponent, while the Sun Bowl would match the ACC against the #4 or #5 team from the Pac-12. The #7 and #8 bowl slots for the ACC have yet to be decided, though one could be a new bowl that is being started by the Detroit Lions.
I believe the new playoff format will create better postseason matchups in those six major bowl games. In 2012, those six games would have featured teams such as Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida, Oregon, Kansas State, Stanford, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, Northern Illinois (by being the highest ranked team from a smaller conference), Florida State, Oklahoma and perhaps South Carolina. With the exception of Northern Illinois, that’s a really nice group of names.
I don’t think I have to tell you how much getting the Big East, or American Athletic Conference, or whatever you want to call it, out of the equation helps things. After WVU left, Louisville was the only attractive school left in that league in terms of TV watchability, and the Cardinals are coming to the ACC. Thank goodness there is no more Cincinnati or UConn watering down the big bowl games. I’m very thankful for what that league did for Virginia Tech’s football back in the day, but the simple fact is that the death of Big East football is a good thing for college football’s big bowl games.
As far as the rest of the bowl games, the Russell Athletic Bowl should give the ACC a good matchup each year. The Music City/Gator, Belk and Pinstripe Bowls are a few of a handful of bowls that are set up to be very flexible with regards to which teams they can take. That will help each bowl get the most desirable matchups, and that’s definitely a good thing.
Going to New York City in December for the Pinstripe Bowl wouldn’t normally sound appealing, but what if the opponent were Michigan State or Wisconsin? Or better yet, Penn State? I’ve always thought taking a train ride to NYC would be fun, and that would provide a good excuse. The Belk Bowl in Charlotte was never regarded as a particularly good bowl, but what if it came against Mississippi State or South Carolina? That would be fun.
It can be tough to predict the future landscape of college athletics, but I think the major conferences are poised to get better bowl matchups in the future.