Talk about bad timing for the best season in UNC football history.
As discussed yesterday, there are three at-large spots up for grabs in the New Years Six, and the new College Football Poll may have completely eliminated the ACC from snagging one. With four teams in the top 10, the Big Ten will absolutely take one at-large bid with the champion essentially locked into the Playoff while the runner up is guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame dropped to sixth without much of an opportunity to climb back into the top 4, locking up an at-large bid for the Irish.
The third and final at-large bid, at the moment, is held by the Big 12. The good news for everyone else is that they’re perfectly poised to cannibalize each other over the next two weeks. Oklahoma sits third in the rankings, and plays 11th ranked Oklahoma State on Saturday night with an opportunity to knock the Cowboys out of the New Years Six picture. It gets dicey if the Cowboys win, however, because it likely kicks the Big 12 out of the Playoff, locking up the third and final at-large bid with Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor all poised for a top 10 finish.
Unlike the PAC 12, with absolutely no shot at an at-large bid, the ACC has two teams ready to pounce should Oklahoma take care of business. Florida State has 12th ranked Florida, who dropped four spots after an overtime scare during the “SEC Bye Week” last weekend. North Carolina plays NC State before heading to the ACC Championship Game to face top ranked Clemson.
So why is this bad timing for the Heels? Well, the most obvious reason is that the ACC lacks an automatic Orange Bowl bid this year, as the league’s access bowl is a semifinal host. Any other season and the next highest ranked ACC team behind Clemson would be slotted into the New Years Six by contract.
Carolina is also being set up by the committee, who no doubt is being told that the bowls are taking a hard pass on North Carolina. With Florida dropping four spots (completely ignoring that the committee hasn’t punished anyone for “close wins” until this week when both Notre Dame and Florida were hit), the Gators can give Florida State enough of a quality win to stay ahead of the Tar Heels, but probably not enough of a quality win to overtake the 3rd place Big 12 or Big Ten team. It gives the Noles a chance, but it doesn’t do North Carolina any favors, who will now have to beat Clemson to claim an automatic bid rather than an at-large spot. Should Florida State lose, UNC will have to jump programs like Michigan, Ohio State or Oklahoma State to grab a bid.
What’s even more unfortunate is the “worst case scenario” that looms out there for North Carolina. If the Big Ten, Big 12, and Notre Dame scoop up the three at-large bids, if Florida State beats Florida, and if Clemson wins the ACC Championship over North Carolina, who is the Russell Athletic Bowl taking?
CFP Playoff – Clemson
Peach Bowl – Florida State
Russell Athletic Bowl – North Carolina
Sun Bowl – Pitt
Belk Bowl – Virginia Tech
TaxSlayer Bowl – NC State
Pinstripe Bowl – Duke
Military Bowl – Miami
Independence Bowl – Louisville
Quick Lane Bowl – Virginia* (if 80 teams are not bowl eligible)