’Tis the season to predict bowls

NSJ takes its best guess on where ACC teams will play in the postseason

David Cutcliffe and Duke earned bowl eligibility with wins in their final two games, while Wake Forest senior quarterback John Wolford will get to play one more games for the Deacons. (Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports)

Last weekend made a very confusing ACC bowl picture much clearer. Miami’s loss to Pitt likely means that the ACC will get one team into the Playoff — the winner of this Saturday’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.

The consensus of the major national media outlets’ bowl projections is that Clemson is bound for a CFP matchup — likely with Wisconsin — in the Sugar Bowl. Miami will head to the Orange Bowl, where it will likely play Alabama, whose loss to Auburn last weekend could knock it out of the Playoff.

Neither of those are a sure thing. Of the seven projections we surveyed (CBSSports’ Jerry Palm, Sports Illustrated, SB Nation, ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura, ESPN’s David Hale, Sporting News and Bleacher Report) five have Clemson-Wisconsin in the Sugar. But Alabama and Auburn were also listed as possible foes for the Tigers.

All seven had Miami in the Orange, but Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State are potential replacements for Alabama.

We’ll go with the consensus, however:

Sugar: Clemson-Wisconsin

Orange: Miami-Alabama

After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

After the major bowls are set, the next bowl to choose in the ACC pecking order is Orlando’s Camping World Bowl. Notre Dame’s loss to Stanford in the season finale likely means the Irish will fall from the New Year’s bowls into the ACC’s bowl pool, in which case, they’d be the choice here. (Although Sporting News still has the Irish going to the Cotton).

Of course, if Miami does get Wisconsin, Penn State or Ohio State, then, due to an oddity in the ACC’s bowl process, Notre Dame could go to the Citrus Bowl. That would free up NC State or Virginia Tech to go to Camping World.

Based on our projection of Miami’s opponent, the Citrus would be off the table. So we’re projecting:

Camping World: Notre Dame-Iowa State

Next up are the four Tier One bowls: Belk, Sun, Pinstripe and either Gator/TaxSlayer or Music City. Each of the latter two bowls are guaranteed three ACC teams over a six-year period. Music City has already chosen an ACC team twice, so we’re predicting that an ACC team is headed to Jacksonville instead of Nashville.

Most likely those four slots will be filled by (in some order) NC State, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Wake Forest. The first three have been in the Belk Bowl each of the last three years, so the consensus is that Wake is headed for Charlotte against an SEC foe. Kentucky is a popular choice from the national projections, but the Kentucky-Louisville basketball game tips off during the Belk Bowl, so that wouldn’t be a wise choice for ticket sales or ratings.

Belk: Wake Forest-Texas A&M

Taxslayer: NC State-LSU

Sun: Louisville-Arizona State

Pinstripe: Virginia Tech-Purdue

After that comes Tier Two Bowls, who pick in the following order:

Military: Virginia-Navy

Independence: Florida State-Southern Miss (assuming no SEC team is available to play the Noles)

Quick Lane: Duke-Central Michigan (assuming no Big Ten team is available)

Petersburg: Boston College-Florida Atlantic

Outside of the ACC, there’s one other North Carolina team worth watching when the bowl pairings are announced.

Cure Bowl: Appalachian State-Temple