For the last five seasons, four teams from North Carolina have played in FBS Bowl Games.
Based on national bowl projections, the state appears to be on pace for receiving a similar number of bids. They’ll just be coming from a different combination of teams than in the past.
The Triangle ACC teams — Duke, UNC and NC State — have combined for 23 bowl bids in the last 11 seasons. There’s a possibility that all three will be home for the holidays for the first time since the 2007 season and just the fourth time in the last 30 years. Throw in ECU and the eastern half of the state might get shut out for the first time since 1987.
Here’s a look at the bowl prospects for the local FBS teams with three weeks to go in the regular season.
Wake Forest: The class of the state
The Deacs became bowl eligible on Oct. 19 and are holding out hope that they can make a CFP New Year’s bowl. Of the 13 major national bowl projections, six have Wake headed to the Orange Bowl — Sports Illustrated has the Deacs facing Notre Dame, while 247 Sports, CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm, Stadium’s Brett McMurphy and Bleacher Report have Georgia as the opponent. USA Today projects Wake to play Florida.
Other possible landing spots for Wake, should the Deacs fall short of the New Year’s Six: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Michigan State, Belk vs. Mississippi State, Sun vs. Cal or Arizona State, Music City vs. Indiana, Camping World vs. Texas.
Appalachian State: The class of the state, part 2
App is the only other N.C. school that’s a unanimous bowl choice. The Mountaineers also became eligible on Oct. 19.
Nine outlets have the Mountaineers headed to the New Orleans Bowl. Bonagura, 247, Palm, McMurphy and College Football News all have the opponent as Southern Miss. Schlabach and Banner Society have App playing Louisiana Tech. Athlon and Bleacher Report predict Marshall.
The other options for App are the Arizona Bowl (San Diego State or Nevada) or the Cure Bowl (Cincinnati or UCF).
North Carolina: Work to do but hopes are high
The Tar Heels need to win two of their final three — home against Mercer and on the road at Pitt and NC State — to become bowl eligible. They’ll likely be favored in at least two of the three, if not all of them. As a result, 12 of the 13 outlets have put Carolina in a bowl. Bleacher Report is the only pessimist.
The most likely landing spot is everyone’s favorite: The Independence Bowl. Seven outlets are sending the Heels to Shreveport. Bonagura and McMurphy have the Heels playing Louisiana Tech. College Sports Madness says Louisiana-Monroe. Other potential opponents are UAB, Kentucky, Western Kentucky or an in-state showdown with Charlotte.
Two outlets send the Heels to the Belk Bowl to play Buffalo or Tennessee.
Then there’s the Quick Lane Bowl (Nebraska), Pinstripe (Illinois) and Birmingham (Cincinnati).
Charlotte: Ready to make its debut
The 49ers are one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since the program was revived. Eight outlets think Charlotte makes it. The Bahamas Bowl is the choice of three outlets (Buffalo, Ohio or Miami, Ohio). There’s also the Independence showdown with UNC, the Gasparilla Bowl (UCF), New Mexico (Nevada), Birmingham (Tulane) and Boca Raton (Tulane).
NC State: Bleak outlook for Pack
State needs to win two of three — at Georgia Tech, home against UNC and Louisville. Only three of the 13 outlets like the Pack’s chances. TSN has them going to the Texas Bowl against TCU. McMurphy is sending them to Quick Lane vs. Michigan State, and College Sports News has them in the Gasparilla against Florida Atlantic.
Duke: Not looking good for Devils
Duke also needs to win two of three — at Wake and home against Syracuse and Miami. Only two outlets have the Devils doing it. S.I. has them in the Quick Lane against Illinois and USA Today has them in the Military against Temple.
East Carolina: Eliminated
ECU suffered its seventh loss this past weekend against SMU, meaning the Pirates can’t win six to become bowl eligible.
But wait: The wildcard
The teams that haven’t gained eligibility yet have one last-ditch hope if they don’t reach six wins. There are 39 bowl games, meaning a total of 78 teams are needed to fill all the slots. If they don’t get enough six-win teams, the slots are filled with five-win teams based on their APR (a measure of graduation rate for the team over recent seasons).
Currently, 53 teams are eligible, meaning the bowls are 25 teams short. Three teams — Virginia Tech, Liberty and Hawaii — have six wins but need a seventh, either because they play 13 or because they played two FCS teams. Still, they have priority over the five-win teams. So Carolina, State, Duke, Charlotte and ECU are down to 22 slots.
Throwing out teams that are already bowl eligible or can’t reach five wins, Duke is at the top of the list. So if there aren’t enough six-win teams, the Blue Devils are the first five-win team selected. Of course, Duke still needs to win one more to reach five.
NC State is 21st, but only eight teams ahead of the Pack have already reached the five-win mark. NC State needs to win one more and then hope a lot of teams ahead of them lose out.
Carolina is 37th, and 11 teams ahead of them have won five. The Heels need to win one more to reach five. Since they play State, at least one of the two teams are guaranteed five wins. But both teams still need a lot of help to take advantage of the rule.
Charlotte is 55th and 18th among teams that already have five wins. That means that if another four of the 54 teams ahead of them in APR reach five wins, the 49ers are out unless they win a sixth.
East Carolina, meanwhile, is tied with two other teams for 60th, and 20 teams ahead of them already have five wins. So the Pirates need to win out to even reach five, then hope that 39 of the 40 teams ahead of them who haven’t already reached five wins lose out.