For NC teams, bowl picture still developing

Four teams from the state are expected to make a postseason that is already being altered by COVID-19

For the first time, the “Bowl Season” organization of bowl games has made projections for the college football postseason.

North Carolina teams fared well, with four teams getting projected to make a bowl game.

Things have changed since the projections were released, however. So we decided to take a look at the postseason prospects for each of the state’s FBS teams.

North Carolina
Record: 6-3, 6-3 ACC
Projection: Gator Bowl vs. Arkansas (Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida)
Trending: Holding pattern

North Carolina lost to Notre Dame last weekend but can still make a case for a Gator Bowl berth in its final two games. This weekend’s nonconference game against Western Carolina should be a walkover, and then the Heels will play Miami for a chance at the top ACC spot outside the CFP New Year’s games. If the Tar Heels lose to Miami, it could send them down a notch or two in the ACC bowl tier. Of course, with big names at coach and quarterback and a fun-to-watch offense, Carolina will get the benefit of the doubt in the bowl selection process and could end up in a higher-profile game than its record indicates, especially this year when most of the bowl selection criteria have been set aside in favor of a more old-fashioned, smoke-filled room selection process.

NC State
Record: 7-3, 6-3 ACC
Projection: Duke’s Mayo Bowl vs. Maryland (the former Belk Bowl, Dec. 30 in Charlotte)
Trending: Up.

Since the initial projection, the Wolfpack took care of business, beating Syracuse in a road game that many past State teams might have lost. This week, the Pack has another winnable game, at home against Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack could conceivably pass North Carolina in the bowl pecking order. While the Tar Heels have the bigger name and a head-to-head win, if State can boast a one-game lead in the standings, it could earn the Pack a spot in a bigger bowl.

Appalachian State
Record: 7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt
Projection: Camellia Bowl vs. San Diego State (Christmas day in Montgomery, Alabama)
Trending: A shaky up.

Good news/bad news for the Mountaineers. They knocked off Troy last weekend, but Coastal Carolina wrapped up the division, so there’s nowhere for App to move up in the Sun Belt. Still, by winning out, over 8-1 Louisiana and 6-4 Georgia Southern, App State can show Bowl Season it’s ready for prime time. Of course, a 1-1 or 0-2 record down the stretch could put App’s sixth straight bowl bid in jeopardy

Wake Forest
Record: 4-3, 3-3 ACC
Projection: Cheez-It Bowl vs. Oklahoma State (Formerly known as the Russell Athletic and Camping World Bowl, Dec. 29 in Orlando, Florida)
Trending: Dark clouds on the horizon

Inactivity has been the enemy of Wake’s bowl prospects. The Demon Deacons aren’t scheduled to play this weekend, which will be the third straight week they’ve had off due to COVID testing and contact tracing quarantines on the team. Of course, getting back on the field may not help Wake as much as it hopes. The next game will be against No. 2 Notre Dame, rescheduled from earlier in the year. Wake could be playing at Louisville on Dec. 19 hoping to get back to .500 in the league. So its grip on the bowl bid could be a slippery one. More bad news for Wake came early in the week when the Sun Bowl organizers announced they wouldn’t be holding the game this year. While Wake was a few notches below the Sun on the ACC bowl pecking order, that game’s cancellation moves each of the teams above Wake down a slot, essentially taking a potential landing spot away from the Deacs.

Record: 2-7, 1-7 ACC
Projection: No bowl game
Trending: No change likely

The Blue Devils have had a disappointing season. With the six-win requirement waived for the season, there’s the potential that Duke could be chosen to fill a spot, if necessary, and coach David Cutcliffe said he’d be open to it. Currently, Bowl Season is losing games (see Sun Bowl) faster than teams, so the slim chance Duke would be needed appears to be headed toward none.

East Carolina
Record: 3-6, 3-5 American
Projection: No bowl game
Trending: No change likely

ECU is out of chances to impress anyone, as their regular season ended with a big win over SMU last weekend. Like Duke, if bowls need teams to fill slots, they could reach for the Pirates, but it’s hard to envision a scenario that would be required.

Record: 2-3, 2-1 Conference USA
Projection: No bowl game
Trending: No change likely

Elderly people are telling their grandchildren stories of the last time Charlotte played a game. The 49ers are scheduled to face FIU this weekend, which would be their first game since Halloween, thanks to a season-long battle with COVID. We’ve held a presidential election, the NBA Draft and Thanksgiving since the 49ers last played. From one point of view, it would be a nice gesture to offer the beleaguered 49ers a chance to play another game, but there will be teams in front of them that did more on the field to earn a berth.