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Bowl Watch Week 9: On the brink of bowl eligibility, it’s time for UVA to get greedy

If the Hoos beat the Tar Heels, they can set their sights on bigger goals.

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NCAA Football: Virginia at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a regular Bowl Watch reader (thank you!), you might recall that I wrote the following before the Virginia Cavaliers traveled to NC State:

The next three weeks will be interesting to watch considering that Virginia has very little to lose – it doesn’t necessarily need to win any of these three to go bowling. If they can pull off an upset versus NC State, Miami, or Duke, they’ll be in amazing shape for the postseason. If they somehow win two? They’d be legit Coastal division contenders.

Welp. Here we are.

The Hoos did somehow win two of their last three games. They sit 5-2 on the season and 3-1 in the ACC. They play three consecutive winnable home games. And they have a better resume at this point in the season than any of their division rivals.

They’re legit Coastal Division contenders. And that makes it a very strange week to write a Bowl Watch column.

You see, when I launched this weekly feature in 2015, I simply hoped that Virginia could somehow squeak into a bowl game.

Same in 2016.

Same again in 2017.

And...honestly...same again in 2018.

I think making a bowl game will always be an important goal for UVA football. And Virginia still needs one more win to get there. Last year’s blowout losses to Boston College and Pittsburgh serve as a reminder that a quick start to a season can evaporate in a hurry.

But as my colleague Caroline wrote yesterday, UVA has put itself in position to play for bigger goals. Whether or not the Hoos seize their opportunity will be the biggest story of the season. So bowl coverage, as fun as it is, seems a little less serious this week.

And that’s a good thing.

Opponent Update

Only three ACC Coastal teams played this past weekend: Virginia beat Duke and UNC lost to Syracuse.

UVA’s win over Duke was its fourth-straight in the series. If Blue Devil quarterback Daniel Jones had any doubt about going to the NFL, Saturday’s game might have erased it. He should to enter the draft just to avoid facing Bryce Hall for a fourth time. Bruh.

North Carolina, the Brittney Spears of the ACC, lost in Double OT on the road at Syracuse. For the second straight week the Heels surrendered a lead in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter. Oops. They’ll be wounded, hungry, and dangerous when they come to Scott Stadium on Saturday. But for now, the Heels are pretty fun to poke fun at.

Out-of-conference, Liberty beat Idaho State in a shootout. The Flames are 4-3 and could potentially make the postseason themselves. That’s a sentence I didn’t plan on typing at any point this year.

Schedule assessment

Our schedule ratings remain the same this week, though I regret not upgrading the Duke game at some point. Here’s how Virginia’s schedule currently stacks up:

For context, UVA is ranked higher than four of its remaining opponents in the Sagarin ratings (UNC, Pitt, Liberty, Georgia Tech) and all five in the S&P+ ratings (UNC, Pitt, Liberty, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech).

As of this week, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly gives Virginia a 100% chance of winning six or more games.

Bowl projections

There were big changes in Virginia’s bowl projections this week. The Hoos got at least one placement in each of the ACC’s Tier One Bowls, and they didn’t get any projections for bowl games in Annapolis, or Shreveport. More wins equals better bowl games, friends.

SB Nation still projects Virginia to the Belk Bowl (Charlotte, December 29) to face Auburn. ESPN’s Mitch Sherman has the Hoos in the Belk Bowl as well, but against Mississippi State.

The Orlando Sentinel and Brett McMurphy have Virginia facing Auburn and South Carolina in the Music City Bowl, respectively (Nashville, December 28).

I think it would be a lot of fun to see UVA against an SEC opponent, so these are the two bowl games I’m hoping to see. Virginia hasn’t played an SEC team since it lost to Auburn in the 2011 Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The Hoos had played SEC teams seven times from 1995-2003: Georgia three times, and Auburn and South Carolina twice.

Plus...the Music City Bowl means a trip to Nashville.

Virginia has played a Big Ten opponent the past two seasons and could face another if projections of the Hoos to the Pinstripe Bowl (New York, December 27) correct. CBS Sports has the Hoos in the Pinstripe Bowl against Maryland. College Football News, The Sporting News, and Sports Illustrated have them there against Purdue. The Boilermakers, who throttled Ohio State last weekend, have Wahoo legend Anthony Poindexter on their defensive coaching staff.

Kyle Bonagura (who I mistakenly referred to as Kyle Bocanegra last week...sorry, Kyle) has Virginia in the Sun Bowl against 24th-ranked Stanford. This projection is the only one of the week that has UVA facing a ranked opponent. The Hoos went 0-6 against Pac-12 teams from 2008-2015. Thanks again, Jon Oliver.

USA Today is the only source that projects Virginia in a Tier Two Bowl: vs. Purdue in the Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit, December 26).

This week and the path forward

Virginia’s road to bowl eligibility couldn’t be clearer: win and in. UVA’s best chance will come against Liberty on November 10, but it’ll be a disappointment if they don’t wrap up a bowl game before then against either North Carolina or Pittsburgh. If Virginia can sweep its homestand, it’ll reach eight wins for only the third time since 2005.

This week’s game against North Carolina isn’t a must-win for bowl purposes, but it’s a must-win if UVA wants to accomplish bigger things this season. The Hoos probably won’t win the Coastal if they lose to UNC. They’d waste their shot at a top-25 ranking. They’d lose the sense of momentum they’ve built around the program the last two weeks. They might still make it to a Tier 1 bowl game, but their margin for error would be thinner.

Bowl watch will be back next week whether the Hoos win or lose. But here’s hoping they keep it going. Division races are a lot of fun, and it’s been too long since UVA has been in one.

Until then!