Orange Bowl could be stuck with unranked ACC team

With Clemson poised for College Football Playoff, no other ACC team ranked

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets players celebrate after winning the Orange Bowl in 2014. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Could the Orange Bowl be stuck with an unranked Atlantic Coast Conference team?

It's shaping up that way for South Florida's premier bowl game.

For the second consecutive week, no ACC team other than Clemson was among the top 25 teams in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night.

Since the 2006 season, the Orange Bowl has served as the home of the ACC champion. However, in the years when the ACC champion has been designated to play in one of the College Football Playoff semifinal games or its precursor -- the Bowl Championship Series national title game -- the Orange Bowl is contractually obligated to select the next-highest ranked ACC team.

Although it hasn't happened yet, the Orange Bowl could be faced with having to choose from a pool of unranked ACC teams.

Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, told reporters during a conference call to discuss the latest rankings that the selection committee will not determine the ACC representative in the Orange Bowl.

"That will not be in the committee's purview," he said. "The Orange Bowl will just tell everyone who they have chosen."

Assuming undefeated Clemson wins out and is one of the top four teams in the final College Football Playoff rankings, the Orange Bowl would get first choice in the ACC pecking order of the remaining bowl-eligible teams.

North Carolina State's Drake Thomas tries to stop Clemson running back Travis Etienne during a game at Carter-Finley Stadium, Nov. 9, 2019 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

There are currently four teams with the next-best win-loss record -- Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Virginia and Virginia Tech (ranked No. 25 in The Associated Press poll). All four teams already have three losses each.

Larry Wahl, vice president of communications for the Orange Bowl, said nobody on the staff has begun to examine the criteria in selecting the replacement ACC team. He said it's still too early to make a determination.

With several weekends still remaining in the college football season before the final rankings are released, plenty could change between now and then.

"There's an expectation that somebody's going to be ranked at some point," Wahl said.

Current ACC Standings

Atlantic DivisionOverall RecordConference Record
Wake Forest3-37-3
Florida State6-54-4
Boston College5-53-4
NC State4-61-5
Coastal Division
Virginia Tech7-34-2
North Carolina4-63-4
Georgia Tech *2-81-6

italics denote teams already bowl eligible

* not bowl eligible

One consideration would be to send the loser of the ACC Championship game to South Florida. But Wahl said the ACC Coastal Division champion (again, assuming Clemson wins) "would not necessarily" play in the Orange Bowl.

Georgia Tech, which lost to Florida State in the 2014 ACC title game, filled the void that year when the Seminoles earned a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. A similar scenario occurred in 2017, when Miami lost to Clemson in the ACC title game and wound up in the Orange Bowl.

However, as recently as 2016, the Seminoles were selected for the Orange Bowl despite missing out on the ACC title game.

Miami native Dalvin Cook holds an orange during the trophy presentation after Florida State's 33-32 victory against Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

Another consideration could be the opponent. The contract calls for either Notre Dame, a Big Ten Conference or Southeastern Conference team to pair opposite the ACC representative.

Since the Orange Bowl is not a semifinal game this year, the highest-ranked non-champion from the Big Ten or SEC, if ranked higher than Notre Dame, is eligible. The Big Ten and SEC are guaranteed three appearances every eight years in which the Orange Bowl isn't a semifinal game. Notre Dame can fill the other two years.

There's a chance No. 11 Florida, which won't play for the SEC championship, could wind up in the Orange Bowl. But the same holds true for No. 16 Notre Dame, which hasn't been to the Orange Bowl since 1996.

So what if things hold even and there is no other ranked ACC team?

Wahl said the Orange Bowl would likely involve the ACC in the decision-making process “since they’re such a close and strong partner, great partner.”

About the Author: