As commissioner John Swofford assured last week, the ACC has secured its long-term place in college football’s postseason hierarchy by renewing ties with the Orange Bowl.
The 12-year contract, confirmed Tuesday and commencing with the 2014 season and the sport’s new four-team playoff, sends the conference champion to the Orange Bowl each season unless:
* The Orange Bowl is among the two national semifinal hosts, and an ACC team is not among the four qualifiers. In that case, the ACC champ would be guaranteed a spot in one of the three "access" bowls that will be a part of the new postseason structure. Those games have not been determined, and candidates figure to be the Fiesta, Chick-fil-A, Sugar, Cotton, Outback and Capital One.
* The ACC champ is a national semifinalist but the Orange Bowl is not a host. Then, another ACC team would replace the champion in the Orange.
For example, in 2007 Virginia Tech was ranked third in the final Bowl Championship Series standings and might have qualified for a four-team playoff. If so, and were the Orange not a designated semifinal, the Hokies' replacement in the Orange likely would have been No. 14 Boston College.
In short, the arrangement is similar to the ACC-Orange BCS deal that has been in place since the 2006 season.
The ACC is the fifth conference to assure its champion a spot in the new postseason order, joining the Big Ten, Pacific 12, Southeastern and Big 12. The Big East, Virginia Tech’s former home, is on the outside.
Details on the ACC’s opponent in the Orange Bowl and a broadcast partner are “forthcoming,” the conference said in a press release.
The great news for fans is, starting with the 2014 season, the Orange Bowl will be played Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. Once a New Year’s Day staple, the Orange Bowl has been played Jan. 1 only twice in the last 16 seasons.
Games played after Jan. 1 often conflicted with folks returning to work, and their children returning to school, after the holidays. That contributed to the game’s attendance problems.
The Orange Bowl has been both kind and cruel to the ACC.
Clemson won its improbable 1981 national championship there, defeating Nebraska. A dozen years later, Bobby Bowden earned the first of his two national titles with an Orange Bowl conquest, also of Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers were also the foil on New Year’s Day 1955 as Duke, yes, Duke, rolled to a 34-7 Orange Bowl victory.
But recently, the Orange Bowl has been a graveyard for the ACC. Ten of the league’s last 12 champions have played in the game. Only 2008 champ Virginia Tech won, defeating Cincinnati.
Moreover, some of the nine losses were humbling. Tech fell to Stanford by 26 points, Maryland to Florida by 33 and Clemson to West Virginia by 37.
Prior to the advent of the Bowl Coalition for the 1992 season, the ACC sent its champion to the Orlando-based Citrus Bowl. That arrangement ran from 1987-91 and included Virginia’s appearance after the 1989 season, a 31-21 loss to Illinois and Jeff George.
Here’s how radically the bowl system has changed: In 1990, undefeated ACC champion Georgia Tech was ranked second nationally yet had to settle for a Citrus Bowl matchup with No. 19 Nebraska.
Meanwhile, unranked and thrice-beaten Virginia locked in a Sugar Bowl invite in November and played No. 10 Tennessee.
Much more to come following my afternoon interview with Swofford.
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