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Bowl Watch Week 3: Do you like oranges?

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NCAA Football: William & Mary at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia took care of business in Week 2 by dispatching William & Mary in its home opener. In doing so, the Cavaliers continued to stake their claim as the ACC’s second-best team.

To be clear, no one in the league is remotely close to Clemson, but the title of “second-best” has its benefits, the juiciest of which (pun intended) is an Orange Bowl invite this December.

A handful of different teams generated buzz as the league’s potential second-best during the preseason. Expectations were high at Miami, Syracuse, Florida State, and Virginia Tech. But each of those programs have hit early roadblocks.

Miami, FSU, and VT all took losses in Week 1, but none were as bad as Syracuse’s embarrassment at Maryland in Week 2. The Orange gave up 63 points and squandered all of their preseason hype in the process.

The result of all of this turmoil is that Virginia has taken over, for now, as the league’s clear No. 2. The Hoos are the only non-Clemson team ranked in the AP Top 25...and they’re the UNANIMOUS Orange Bowl pick in this week’s media bowl projections.

I suddenly feel like Matt Damon slapping a piece of notebook paper onto a bar window in Cambridge.

Oranges? How do you like them oranges?

Where We Are

Virginia made another big jump in the Sagarin rankings this week and now sits higher than nine of its remaining opponents. North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Louisville, and Duke all rose, while Florida State and Virginia Tech continued to drop.

Here’s how Sagarin ranks UVA’s foes:

12 – @ Notre Dame

22 – Virginia (up from 30)

27 – @ Miami

33 – @ North Carolina (up from 51)

40 – Florida State (down from 29)

41 – @ Pittsburgh WIN (up from 59)

47 – Duke (up from 58)

54 – Georgia Tech (up from 65)

56 – Virginia Tech (down from 45)

68 – @ Louisville (up from 83)

142 – Old Dominion (down from 160)

157 – William & Mary WIN (up from 188)

159 – Liberty (down from 132)

Grouping the Games - Week 3 Update

The early ACC carnage has also forced a shake-up in my game groupings.

Florida State still has the name cachet but is just a missed extra point from being 0-2. The Seminoles looked uninterested in the second half against ULM and were lucky to win. Coach Taggert’s squad opened as an 8-point road underdog this weekend at Virginia.

I think FSU will play with increased urgency Saturday night in Charlottesville. But the ghost of Warrick Dunn be damned...I’m moving this one from “Toss-Up” to “Favorable.”

Similarly, Miami has failed to impress during its 0-2 start. The Canes were sloppy (again) against UNC. They might still be better than UVA, but the October 11 matchup between the two teams looks a lot more winnable. I’m moving this one from “Unfavorable” to “Toss-Up.”

At 2-0, Virginia now needs just four more wins to reach bowl eligibility. UVA can do that by winning its last “Must-Win” games and going two-for-four in its “Favorable” games.

Remaining Must-Win:

  • Old Dominion (1-1) Home, September 21
  • Liberty (0-2) Home, November 23

Analysis: Old Dominion hung in with Virginia Tech in Week 2 and could catch UVA looking ahead to Notre Dame. Liberty should pick up a win somewhere (against Hampton in two weeks looks possible), but the Flames look hapless so far.

Remaining Favorable:

  • Florida State (1-1) Home, September 14
  • Duke (1-1) Home, October 19
  • Louisville (1-1) Away, October 26
  • Georgia Tech (1-1) Home, November 9

Analysis: Everything about the second half of FSU-ULM was dreadful. The play, the ACC Network broadcast, the length and number of timeouts...all of it. The only possible redemption could have come with a ULM win...but the Warhawks shanked an extra point in overtime to punctuate the misery.

Meanwhile, Duke, Louisville, and Georgia Tech all picked up wins. Louisville continues to play better than expected and garner praise in the process. We probably won’t know much about Duke until after it faces Virginia Tech in a couple of weeks.

Remaining Toss-Up:

  • Miami (0-2) Away, October 11
  • North Carolina (2-0) Away, November 2
  • Virginia Tech (1-1) Home, November 29

Analysis: Could North Carolina and Virginia decide the ACC Coastal Division on November 2nd? The Heels took another step forward by beating Miami in Week 2. North Carolina heads to Wake Forest for a non-conference game in Week 3. Although that game won’t count in the ACC standings, it could affect both teams’ eventual bowl pecking order.

Longshot:

  • Notre Dame (1-0) Away, September 28

Analysis: Notre Dame had the week off. The Irish play New Mexico on Saturday.

Current Bowl Projections

As I mentioned at the top, Virginia was a UNANIMOUS Orange Bowl pick in this week’s media bowl projections. It’s quite a turn of events for a program that was left for dead at the end of the Mike London era.

Who would the Hoos play in Miami Gardens? That’s where the media disagrees.

Potential SEC Opponents:

247 Sports and College Football News have Virginia in the Orange Bowl against Florida (Miami Gardens, December 30). The Sporting News and USA Today have Virginia there against LSU.

Potential Big Ten Opponents:

Brett McMurphy has Virginia playing Penn State. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach has ‘em playing Wisconsin. Sports Illustrated has ‘em facing Michigan.

Potential Other Opponents

CBS Sports and SB Nation/Banner Society have the Hoos tangling with Notre Dame. ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura has them squaring off against Boise State.

Analysis: There are a lot of big names among these opponents. And it’s impossible to say if Virginia would be ready to perform on such a large stage.

But these are the types of opponents that should excite a fan base longing for good football. Virginia doesn’t play too many marquee non-conference opponents anymore. And the days of getting nationally-ranked Clemson or FSU on the schedule every year are long gone.

Consider a scenario in which Virginia wins the Coastal, loses to Clemson, and makes the Orange Bowl. That means it would play consecutive games against Virginia Tech, Clemson, an Orange Bowl opponent, and Georgia (in the 2020 opener). If that’s not enough to spark your Orange Fever, then I can’t help you.

Games To Monitor This Week

Virginia vs. Florida State - This one has been circled on the calendar since the schedule was announced. UVA has beaten FSU twice inside Scott Stadium, including the epic 1995 victory that marked the Noles’ first ACC loss. This will be the first time Virginia has ever been favored against Florida State. If the Hoos play a clean game and match FSU’s early intensity, they’ll be in great position for win No. 3.

North Carolina at Wake Forest - Mack Brown’s Tar Heels are must-watch TV after their two upset wins to start the season. But Wake’s Dave Clawson will be a tougher coaching adversary than Will Muschamp or Manny Diaz. I don’t expect Clawson’s team to beat itself. Note the early kickoff, however. This one starts at 6PM on Friday.

Pittsburgh at Penn State - Virginia’s season started with a bang when it beat Pitt on the road. But how good are the Panthers? We’ll get a better idea on Saturday when they head to Happy Valley. Could this game match a former Virginia opponent with a future Orange Bowl foe? Only time will tell.

That’s it for now. As always, stay HYPED, fans. I’ll see you in Scott Stadium on Saturday night and back here next week.

Until then, Go Hoos.