The numbers don’t lie. There are 11 ACC specific bowl games, there are 14 ACC teams. That does not include the College Football Playoff, nor the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, who are allowed to choose any two at-large teams. That means there’s the potential for 14 ACC schools to play in the postseason this winter. Yep, that means it is possible every single ACC team plays in a bowl game.
That, of course, will not happen. Clemson is on the outside looking in at the CFP, and even if they land there, finding two more high-profile teams from this conference for the Peach and Fiesta is an even bigger reach. For out purposes let’s say the Tigers miss the CFP and land in the Peach, and it’s second place teams like Iowa, Ohio State, A&M, Florida, USC who nab the other slots in those two games.
That would then mean there’s 11 slots for the 13 ACC schools (and there’s always Notre Dame lurking). With a 3-1 start to the season, can Syracuse fans dream of going from one win last season to a bowl game?
The answer is yes. Winning three of the four non-conference games was crucial for this possibility. While Ohio is 0-3, the Orange needed that “W” to get to 6. No one is impressed by beating Albany, but at least it was a blowout, and for it counts toward the goal. The Liberty win Saturday was an important one after the way the Flames had manhandled the Orange last season.
If we use the 6-6 barometer, Syracuse needs three more wins in their final 8 games.
Florida State: The 0-3 Noles are a disaster, and after the meltdowns to Jacksonville State and Wake Forest, there are already calls for Mike Norvell’s head. While it’s in Tallahassee, a win is definitely possible. They’re probably the ACC’s worst team.
Wake Forest: The Deacons are pretty solid team this year. They’re 4-0 with wins over FSU and UVA. Even though it’s at the Dome, Wake may be a notch above SU.
Clemson: Yes, the Tigers aren’t nearly as good as previous years. The quarterback play is awful, and it’s at the Dome. But they’re still the best team in the ACC with an elite defense. That’s probably an SU loss.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies are 2-1, and beat a top-10 UNC team in the opener. But they’ve also lost to WVU. This one is at Lane Stadium, which has been a house of horrors for SU for decades. Don’t feel great about it.
Boston College: The Eagles are 3-0 but have beaten absolutely nobody (Temple, UMass, Colgate). BC is supposedly a stronger team this year than the Orange, but the game is at the Dome. This is a huge game for SU’s bowl chances.
Louisville: The Cardinals have a quality win against UCF, but lost to Ole Miss in the opener. The 2-1 Cards are probably better than SU, but this is not an unwinnable game even if it’s on the road.
NC State: Will the Wolfpack finally complete a spirited season, or wilt late like so many other editions? They’ve smashed USF and Furman (yawn), but lost to Mississippi State. This one is in Raleigh, so again a tough game for the Orange. If the Wolfpack beats Clemson we know they’re for real.
Pitt: The final game of the season is at the Dome, and more than likely the Orange will have to win this game to get bowl eligible. The Panthers are perplexing, good enough to beat Tennessee, bad enough to trail by two touchdowns at home against Western Michigan and ultimately losing. SU has to win this game.
Here’s what it boils down to: SU needs to beat Florida State and Pitt, then find one more win somewhere in the ACC slate. This is the three-game group where Syracuse must win at least one: Wake, BC, Louisville. Is it possible? Absolutely. Sean Tucker is running like a freight train, the defense is better than we assumed coming into the season, and Garrett Shrader’s legs are a weapon.
There is also the nuclear option, where SU only goes 5-7 and still gets picked for a bowl game. That has happened 5 times ever, so it’s in play but also not something you’d want to plan for. Luckily the ACC has 11 bowl slots that need to get filled, so if SU does its part and gets to 6-6, they should be playing in December. Gasparilla Bowl, here we come!