A win or even a close loss to No. 5 Georgia could have significantly helped Georgia Tech’s bowl picture. But, after a 45-21 loss to the Bulldogs Saturday in Athens, the Yellow Jackets’ bowl choices are not as hopeful but slightly clearer, though there’s still multiple possibilities.
Tech will learn its bowl destination next Sunday.
This much is clear: The Camping World Bowl, which has the top choice of ACC teams after those in either the College Football Playoff or New Year’s Six bowl games, is not an option due to league rules stipulating that a bowl can’t take a team if there is another team available that has two more wins.
Saturday, Syracuse beat Boston College to improve to 9-3 while Tech’s loss dropped the Jackets to 7-5. An eight-win team could leapfrog the Orange to get into the Camping World Bowl, held December 28 in Orlando, Fla., but not Tech. A report on Syracuse.com on Sunday indicated that No. 20 Syracuse would be the bowl’s selection.
The next four possibilities are the four “tier one” bowls – the Belk, Pinstripe, Sun and either the Music City or Gator bowls. All the bowls pick together in collaboration with the ACC, and the Music City and Gator bowls share a pick.
In a six-year contract, they’re contracted to pick an ACC team three times each, and they’ve both selected two ACC teams each four years into the deal. Last week, Music City Bowl president and CEO Scott Ramsey said that the two bowls have yet to decide how they’ll pick.
The challenge for the ACC, the bowls and the teams is that after 12-0 Clemson, 9-3 Syracuse and 8-3 N.C. State (which plays East Carolina next Saturday), there are six teams at 7-5. (That includes Pitt, which is 7-5 and playing No. 2 Clemson in the ACC title game Saturday. If the Panthers pull the upset, they would go to either the Peach or Fiesta bowl.)
N.C. State and Syracuse will take either the Camping World Bowl and one of the tier-one slots. That leaves six teams with seven wins – Tech, Boston College, Duke, Miami, Virginia and Pitt (if the Panthers lose) – for the remaining three spots. Tech has a shot at a tier-one bowl, but there’s moving parts. For instance, Virginia Tech, if it can beat Marshall next Saturday to gain bowl eligibility, also adds a team that has name-brand appeal and a big fan base.
For Tech, a trip to the Gator Bowl after playing there in 2016 is highly unlikely. Ramsey told the AJC that, while Tech played at the Music City Bowl in 2013, the Jackets would “certainly be somebody that we would consider.” The game is December 28 in Nashville, Tenn., against an SEC opponent. A potential possibility, though, is for the Gator Bowl to snatch up Miami, which is typically a solid draw and good for TV ratings.
The Sun Bowl (December 31 in El Paso, Texas) seems a possibility. Tech and Sun Bowl officials struck up a good relationship after the Jackets bowled there in 2011 and 2012., However, the Sun may be more interested in bringing out an ACC team that it has yet to invite, such as Boston College, Virginia or Pitt (at least in its ACC existence).
Of the other two tier-one bowls, the Belk (December 29 in Charlotte, N.C.) and the Pinstripe (December 27 in New York) would be appealing options for Tech and its fan base. The Belk is nearby and is an ACC-SEC matchup, which is always appealing to Jackets fans. The Belk may be leaning to Virginia, however. N.C. State would seem a possibility if it’s available. In its 16-year existence, the ACC representative has been one of the four North Carolina schools, Clemson, Virginia or Virginia Tech 14 times.
The only two exceptions were 2006, when No. 23 Boston College was available (the Eagles defeated Navy, coached by Paul Johnson), and 2014, when the Belk paired Louisville with No. 13 Georgia and its sizable fan base.
If Syracuse ends up in Orlando, Tech would be a conceivable option for the Pinstripe, a bowl destination that could interest Jackets fans. Boston College played there last year, likely taking the Eagles out of the mix. If Virginia Tech were to beat Marshall next Saturday to earn bowl eligibility, its name and fan base would likely be attractive to the Pinstripe.
If Tech fell out of the tier-one bowls, the next bowl to pick is the Military Bowl (December 31 in Annapolis). Bowl game executive director Steve Beck has indicated his interest in Tech, given Johnson’s successful tenure at Navy. But if Virginia Tech, which has a large alumni base close by, were available, it would be hard to pass up. The Jackets have never played in that game.
The next pick after that is the Independence Bowl (December 27 in Shreveport, La.) Chances are, if Tech is still on the board, that’s where the Jackets would go. But if you’re wondering, the game after that is the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on December 26.
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