Projecting the ACC’s future bowl partnerships with last season’s results is an inexact endeavor, to be sure. But no matter how you forecast the pairings, they confirm how much better the league’s postseason landscape will be.
Windfalls from the four-team playoff that debuts in 2014 include better opponents, more money, greater flexibility, and the same applies to the other power conferences: Southeastern, Big 12, Pacific 12 and Big Ten.
In fact, ACC teams will play opponents from each of those leagues in the new world order. In the present structure, which expires after the 2013 season, the ACC has no guaranteed bowls against the Big Ten or Big 12.
The current bowl food chain:
Orange: ACC champion versus another Bowl Championship Series qualifier.
Chick-fil-A: ACC-SEC in Atlanta.
Sun: ACC-Pacific 12 in El Paso, Texas.
Belk: ACC-American Athletic in Charlotte.
Music City: ACC-SEC in Nashville.
AdvocCare V100: ACC-SEC in Shreveport, La.
Military: ACC-Conference USA in Annapolis, Md.
The future world order:
Orange: In years the Orange does not host a playoff semifinal, the league champ plays there against the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame.
Capital One: This Orlando game traditionally matches the Big Ten and SEC, but in seasons the Big Ten plays the ACC champion in the Orange, the ACC faces the SEC in the Capital One, a quality, if occasional, addition for Commissioner John Swofford.
Russell Athletic: With the Chick-fil-A among the six bowls run by the College Football Playoff’s selection committee, it’s out of the ACC’s every-day lineup. The Russell Athletic inherits the No. 1 non-playoff ACC selection and will pair that team against the Big 12.
After the Russell Athletic, four ACC teams will be pooled for the Belk, Sun, Pinstripe and Gator/Music City (during the six-year cycle, the ACC will play in the Gators and Music City three times each). The Belk, Music City and Gator (Jacksonville, Fla.) matchups will be against the SEC, the Sun versus the Pac-12, the Pinstripe (Yankee Stadium) against the Big Ten.
Yet to be announced but close to finalized, the ACC will play the Big Ten in a new Detroit-based bowl, and the American Athletic in the Military.
For purposes of this exercise, I included conference newcomers Syracuse and Pittsburgh, both of which were bowl-eligible last year in the Big East. I excluded North Carolina and Miami, postseason ineligible because of NCAA violations.
New: Orange Bowl against LSU. Undefeated Notre Dame would have made the playoffs last season, while the Big Ten offered no attractive option. No offense to Northern Illinois, but this is a Hyundai-to-Mercedes upgrade.
Old: The Tigers beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A.
New: Russell Athletic versus Texas. An Orange overdose, though at 8-4, Longhorns would not have matched the buzz of 10-2 LSU.
Old: The Orange routed West Virginia in the Pinstripe.
New: Pinstripe versus Michigan State. Syracuse a natural to play in New York. The Pinstripe’s Big Ten representative will be middle-of-the-pack.
Old: The Hokies bested Rutgers in the Russell Athletic.
New: Sun against Southern California. At a disappointing 6-6, Virginia Tech wasn’t going to sell many tickets to any destination, so ship them west.
Old: The Blue Devils lost to Cincinnati in the Belk.
New: Belk versus Vanderbilt. Duke’s first bowl since 1994 still would merit a convenient destination for its long-suffering fans, with a like-minded institution as an opponent.
Old: The Wolfpack lost to Vanderbilt in the Music City.
New: Gator against Mississippi State. With the ACC bowl pool compromised by Miami and North Carolina’s absence, you’d think the Gator would have chosen a Big Ten team instead. But with Penn State and Ohio State ineligible, the Big Ten options were even less appealing. Miami would have been a natural fit for the Gator, where the Hurricanes haven’t played since Jan. 1, 2000.
Old: Defeated Southern California in the Sun.
New: Military versus Rutgers. A second consecutive trip to El Paso for the Yellow Jackets — they lost to Utah there in 2011 — never would happen in the new structure.
New: Detroit bowl against Purdue. A third straight trip to Birmingham last season was the Big East’s parting gift to the ACC-bound Panthers.
There you have it: a greater presence in Florida, the addition of New York and upgraded opponents. Oh, and a playoff!
Too bad college football must endure a final season mired in the obsolete.
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