Let’s start with Virginia, which probably will play Mississippi State in the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl. With downtown honky-tonks and a modern NFL stadium, Nashville would be a welcome destination for the Cavaliers’ first bowl since 2007. It’s reasonably close, and Virginia defeated Minnesota there in the 2005 postseason.
U.Va. to Nashville presumes the Charlotte-based Belk Bowl, which selects its ACC representative before the Music City, picks North Carolina State. But the Belk’s other team hails from the Big East, and if that squad is West Virginia, the Belk prefers Virginia to N.C. State.
Two reasons: The Wolfpack and Mountaineers played in last season’s Champs Sports Bowl, and organizers worry that a rematch this soon would stifle ticket sales.
Perhaps more important, Virginia and West Virginia met in the inaugural bowl staged in Charlotte, in 2002, drawing a capacity crowd of 73,535 to the Carolina Panthers’ stadium.
So how would the Mountaineers become available to the Belk?
Well, the Belk, set for Dec. 27, usually has the third pick of Big East teams, after the BCS and Champs Sports. But the Champs Sports is allowed to take Notre Dame once every four years, and the Orlando game is expected to exercise that option this year.
So that leaves the Big East’s No. 2 team to the Belk. Louisville (7-5, 5-2) has completed its regular season and leads the standings by a half game over West Virginia and Cincinnati, both 8-3, 4-2.
If West Virginia wins at South Florida (5-6, 1-5) on Thursday, and if Cincinnati defeats visiting Connecticut (3-3, 5-6) on Saturday, the Mountaineers would win a three-way tie-breaker based on BCS standings. That would make them the Big East’s major bowl rep and likely send them to the Orange Bowl to face the winner of Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Clemson ACC title game.
West Virginia is a 1-point favorite at USF, which may be without quarterback B.J. Daniels (shoulder injury); Cincinnati is a 9.5-point favorite against UConn.
But if the Mountaineers stumble, they’re eliminated from BCS contention and, with a rabid fan base on Charlotte’s doorstep, a natural for the Belk. Or if WVU wins and Cincinnati falls, the Mountaineers lose a two-way tie with Louisville based on head-to-head. That scenario also would send WVU to Charlotte, while also sentencing the ACC champion to an Orange Bowl against the first 7-5 team in BCS history.
If the Cavaliers and Mountaineers land in Charlotte, N.C. State would head to Nashville, a simple switch for the ACC.
Virginia Tech’s primary bowl prospects are far less complex.
If the Hokies (11-1, 7-1) defeat Clemson (8-3, 6-2) in Saturday’s ACC championship game, they’re Orange-bound. If they lose, it’s off to the Chick-fil-A in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve, where the likely opponent would be Auburn.
The Chick-fil-A has the first pick of ACC teams after the BCS and would be obligated to select Tech because the Hokies’ conference record – the title contest does not count toward that mark – would be two games better than any other available team.
The longshot wild card is an at-large BCS bid to the Sugar for an 11-2 Virginia Tech team.
Two of the BCS’ four at-larges are spoken for with Stanford and Alabama. Houston and Michigan likely will complete the BCS field.
But Michigan is No. 16 in the BCS standings, two below the cut-off for at-large eligibility. Moreover, ESPN computer geek Brad Edwards’ projections do not have the idle Wolverines jumping into the final top 14 come Sunday’s selections.
If Michigan is not available, might the Sugar consider Tech? Would the Hokies, currently fifth in the BCS, remain in the top 14 after a loss to Clemson?
Tech and the Sugar certainly have a positive history. The Hokies have played there three times and brought tens of thousands on each of those trips.
And what of the mid-majors such as Houston? BCS rules say that if the champion of any automatic-qualifying conference is not among the top 16, then the highest-ranked mid-major champion among the top 16 is assured a BCS invite.
At No. 6, Houston easily passes that test, but if the Cougars lose Saturday’s Conference USA title game to Southern Mississippi, they’re off the board. Would No. 24 Southern Miss vault into the top 16? What of Mountain West champ TCU, presently No. 18? Would a victory over 2-9 Nevada-Las Vegas boost the Horned Frogs into the top 16?
The Big 12 could also barge into at-large consideration if Oklahoma defeats Oklahoma State, and/or Kansas State beats Iowa State. At 10-2, the Cowboys or Wildcats would be viable candidates.
Such scenarios will be moot if Georgia upsets No. 1 LSU in the SEC title game. Then, presuming LSU and Alabama remain 1-2 in some order, the SEC sends an unprecedented three to the BCS, leaving Michigan, the mid-majors, perhaps Virginia Tech and the Big 12 to scrap for one invite.
Blurry though it might seem, the picture will come into focus, starting Thursday night. Stay tuned for updates.
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