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Bowl Watch Week 15: Virginia on cusp of Orange Bowl bid

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Things are looking good, folks.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Start digging out those flip flops, Wahoo fans. The once-unthinkable is within reach. By virtue of a 39-30 victory against their Southwestern step-cousins, the #23 Virginia Cavaliers are mere days away from earning a trip to the Orange Bowl.

All that stands in their way is...looks at notes...Saturday’s ACC Championship game in Charlotte against the ACC’s Death Star: Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.

Gulp.

Of course, nothing at this point is guaranteed, but from all I’ve read, there are three potential outcomes of Saturday’s game that would result in an Orange Bowl bid. For more info on these, you can read Bennett Conlin’s column from the Daily Progress.

Scenario 1: Virginia upsets Clemson and earns an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl as the ACC champion.

The Hoos opened as a four-touchdown underdog and Sagarin only gives them a 12% chance of winning. But hey...big upsets are known to happen in Charlotte, right? In this scenario, Clemson would most likely fall to another New Year’s Six Bowl game.

Scenario 2: Virginia loses to Clemson but acquits itself well-enough that it remains ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25.

In this scenario, Clemson goes to the College Football Playoff and the Orange Bowl automatically takes the next-highest ranked ACC team, which would be Virginia. At No. 23, the Wahoos are the only other ACC team that’s currently ranked. No one else has a realistic shot of breaking into the Top 25.

Scenario 3: Virginia loses to Clemson and falls out of the CFP Top 25, but the Orange Bowl committee selects UVA as its ACC representative regardless.

In this scenario, Clemson still heads to the College Football Playoff. Without having another ranked team, the Orange Bowl can pick whichever ACC team it wants. My Orange-and-Blue glasses are too strong to objectively guess what the Orange Bowl suits would do in this scenario, but I have a hard time believing it would spurn UVA for Wake Forest, Pitt, or anyone else.

Common Misconceptions

I’ve seen a couple of theories out there about how Virginia can get screwed out of an Orange Bowl bid. The first theory suggests that the Orange Bowl can take Notre Dame instead of an ACC team if there isn’t a ranked ACC team. That’s incorrect. Notre Dame can play against an ACC opponent in Miami, but it can’t claim the ACC’s spot.

The second theory suggests that Virginia can actually screw itself by beating Clemson, allowing the Orange Bowl to take the Tigers instead. That’s also false. The Orange Bowl will take the ACC champion unless said champion is in the College Football Playoff. If Virginia wins Saturday, it’s the ACC champion.

Finally, I’ve seen a theory that if Virginia loses badly enough to Clemson, the Orange Bowl will opt for another ACC team if it can find one that sells a lot of tickets. This theory would benefit the current Commonwealth Cup losers. Even if UVA gets smoked by the Tigers, I have a hard time seeing the Orange Bowl pass up on a player like Bryce Perkins and a story like the one Bronco Mendenhall has authored in Charlottesville.

One More Note

As Joe Giglio points out, the CFP committee doesn’t generally penalize teams for losing in their conference title games. Last year, Joe notes, “Northwestern was 8-4 and ranked No. 21 going into the Big Ten title game last year and lost 45-24 to Ohio State and dropped only one spot in the final rankings.”

Current Bowl Projections

Here’s how the media currently forecasts Virginia’s bowl destination and opponent:

Virginia Bowl Projections

Source Bowl Game Date and Time Opponent
Source Bowl Game Date and Time Opponent
Sporting News Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Alabama
247 Sports Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Alabama
Athlon Sports Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Alabama
Bleacher Report Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Alabama
SB Nation/Banner Society Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Alabama
ESPN - Bonagura Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Alabama
ESPN - Schlabach Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Florida
College Football News Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Florida
Brett McMurphy Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Florida
USA Today Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Georgia
CBS Sports Orange Bowl December 30, 8PM Penn State

While Virginia’s bowl destination has cleared up, the opponent remains unsettled. Remember, most media projections are made before the CFP rankings come out on Tuesday nights. With Alabama falling to No. 12 in the latest rankings, I’m confident saying that the Crimson Tide won’t make it into the New Year’s Six. Instead, it looks like Virginia will likely play either No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 9 Florida, or No. 10 Penn State.

Put as clearly as possible, the Orange Bowl picks after the Rose and Sugar Bowls. Those bowls take the best Big Ten and SEC teams, respectively, that aren’t in the playoffs. The Orange Bowl then takes the next best team from either the Big Ten, the SEC, or Notre Dame.

Either way, we’ll know for sure on Tuesday.

Regular Season In Review

At the beginning of the season, I broke UVA’s schedule into five categories: Must Wins, Favorables, Toss-Ups, Unfavorables, and Long-Shots. While most years I end the season looking foolish, I actually did pretty well this year.

Here’s how I initially projected Virginia’s opponents:

  • Must-Wins: William and Mary, Old Dominion, Liberty
  • Favorables: Duke, at Louisville, Georgia Tech
  • Toss-Ups: at Pitt, Florida State, at North Carolina, VPI
  • Unfavorables: at Miami
  • Long-Shots: at Notre Dame.

In my Week 1 column, I wrote that the toss-up games “will determine how ‘good’ or ‘mediocre’ UVA’s season ends up being.” The Wahoos went 4-0 in the toss-ups and delivered one of the most exciting seasons in school history in the process. Otherwise, they were 3-0 against the Must-Wins, 2-1 against the Favorables and 0-2 against the Unfavorables and Long-Shots.

What about the rest of the ACC?

Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Boston College all won last week. The Tigers and Irish are on track for the College Football Playoff and the Camping World Bowl, respectively. The Tar Heels and Eagles gained bowl eligibility with their victories.

Michael Vick’s alma mater, Wake Forest, Pitt, Florida State, Miami, Louisville also suffered Week 14 losses. Those losses hurt any potential hopes for jumping up into Orange Bowl or Camping World Bowl consideration.

Here’s how I currently see the ACC’s bowl lineup playing out:

ACC Bowl Projections

Team Bowl Game
Team Bowl Game
Clemson College Football Playoff
Virginia Orange Bowl
Notre Dame Camping World Bowl
Virginia Tech Belk Bowl
Pittsburgh Pinstripe Bowl
Wake Forest Sun Bowl
Louisville Music City Bowl
Miami Military Bowl
North Carolina Independence Bowl
Florida State Quick Lane Bowl

Games To Monitor This Week

The SEC and Big 10 Championships - 4PM (SEC) and 8PM (Big 10) Saturday

These games will ultimately help decide the ACC’s Orange Bowl opponent.

The ACC Championship - 7:30PM Saturday

A win Saturday would be the biggest in Virginia football history. The Hoos have never won an outright ACC title. It certainly won’t be easy, but man it should be a lot of fun.

Until next time...Go Hoos!