Could the Pack head back to the Meineke Car Care Bowl after playing in the game in 2005? Would State play in the first-ever EagleBank Bowl, held in Washington, D.C.? They didn't know at the time just how much the other ACC games played on Saturday would factor into the Wolfpack's bowl situation.
To become eligible for postseason play in a bowl game, a team must have a minimum 6 wins in a 12-game schedule, or 7 wins in a 13-game schedule, or be the champion of its conference. One win over a FCS team can count toward the win total each year.
Clemson and NC State needed to win on Saturday to become bowl eligible. The Tigers were already 6-5, but because they had two wins over FCS opponents they had to defeat South Carolina to join the eight other conference teams who were eligible. Entering the day, eight teams were already bowl eligible. Once the Wolfpack and Tigers won their games, the ACC became the only conference in the country with ten bowl-eligible teams... the problem is the conference only has nine bowl tie-ins.
"Only our conference and the SEC have nine bowl tie-ins to begin with," said Michael Kelly, the ACC's associate commissioner for football. "No one else has ten teams who are bowl eligible. It's a testament to the seasons our teams have had and how strong our conference really is.
"The bowl scenario is just something we have to work through and it may take a little time. It all kind of happened [Saturday], and I'm sure once everyone is back in the office [on Monday] we can make more sense of it. I can tell you that we will have a series of meetings [Monday] with other conferences and other bowls to make some sense of it because I've only been able to get up with a limited number of people over the weekend. Hopefully [Monday] I can get with some more people."
The Atlantic Coast Conference bowl selection order is as follows:
4. Champs Sports
5. Music City
7. Car Care
Boston College and Virginia Tech won their divisions and advanced to this weekend's title game in Tampa. The ACC champion will play in a BCS Bowl and the loser will play in either the Chick-Fil-a, Gator, Champs Sport, or Music City Bowl. If the ACC runner-up is available, and has won a minimum of eight games, then the Music City Bowl must select that team, unless that team agrees to being selected by another bowl. Both Virginia Tech and Boston College meet the criteria and should be picked by the 5th selection.
Florida State, Clemson, Maryland, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, Wake Forest, and NC State are the league's other eligible teams. Georgia Tech has the most overall wins with nine while NC State has the fewest with six. However, the teams are separated by just one win in the conference standings, as they all are either 5-3 or 4-4.
On the surface, that would suggest that the Pack can play in any of the bowl tie-ins except the Orange Bowl, as the only ACC rule in play is a one-game rule that states a team can be selected to attend any bowl in the selection process as long as that team is within one game in the conference standings of the competing team. Because the ten teams are within one game of each, they all meet the criteria.
However, a recent NCAA rule indicates that the ACC is required to fill all of its slots with 7-win teams before allowing a 6-win team to be invited to a tied-in bowl. Because ten teams are eligible for the league's nine slots, that means NC State, the only team with six wins, could be in trouble.
According to Kelly, the best scenario for NC State is if the Atlantic Coast Conference can secure a bowl commitment from one of the bowls expected to have an open slot.
"It will be interesting to see how it plays out," he stated. "If we can go ahead and get a commitment from a certain bowl to make sure that we can have protection from everything, then maybe we can go back to our normal selection process and select 10-for-10 instead of 10-for-9. That's why it is a little premature to speculate about what teams can or will go to which bowl.
"Yes, the 7-win rule does apply for the ACC selections, but if we're able to get the 10th bowl... the problem is the bowls that already have conference affiliations can't really commit to us until they know for sure that there's not going to be another 7-5 team to fill the spot. So that's why it's probably not something we're going to have a definitive answer to today or tomorrow because it could depend on some play next week."
While it is still early, Kelly indicated that the ACC felt "positive" about all ten teams playing in bowl games. It just might be next week before NC State and the other programs know where they will end up. Early discussions suggest the Independence Bowl, the Texas Bowl, and the Motor City Bowl could be potential at-large destinations for an ACC team.
"For the bowls to get licensed by the NCAA they have to agree to those principles and they usually have a direct conference relationship," said Kelly. "If that doesn't get filled the only obligation is they have to fill it with a 7-5 team before they would go to a 6-6. In this case, when you look at who is still out there, there are currently more slots than there are 7-5 teams that are probably going to be in the free agency, if you will. That's why I think this year things look positive that we can get something worked out.
"For the premise of your story, the most likely scenario, if State or somebody else is not selected by our existing bowl partners, it looks like the Independence Bowl, the Texas Bowl, and potentially the Motor City Bowl are some of the places that might have an open slot."
Because of the NCAA rule, it sounds like NC State will be locked out of attending one of the nine tie-in bowls, however even that isn't definitive at this point.
"That's what we're trying to find out and what we are going to have discussions about," said Kelly. "Again, if we get the 10th bowl selection it could depend on timing or the sequence. I can't say someone is definitely going out of our [selection process]. They could maybe be within our selections if we have enough slots and everyone is satisfied with where they could go.
"Our top priority is to make sure we get that 10th bowl [commitment] and then we obviously can allow the bowls to make the selections they need and selections that make sense for our schools. With this economy, it looks like the bowls will also want to be sure that the selections make sense regionally as well. That's where D.C. or Charlotte makes potentially good sense for State."
Games across the country could impact NC State's bowl bid. A few potential matchups include Rutgers vs. Louisville and Arizona State vs. Arizona. If Louisville wins at Rutgers, the Cardinals would join State as a 6-6 high-major team lobbying for a bowl bid because the Big East already has six teams with at least six wins, filling the league's bowl slots. If Arizona State defeats Arizona and moves to 6-6, the Sun Devils will take up a Pac 10 slot that otherwise would be available as an at-large bid.
"I feel really good about it in terms of looking at the number of teams that can get there," said Kelly. "I think we're fortunate... it's definitely not done yet, but we're talking with several bowls who have openings and are interested in us that aren't obligated... there should only be a small handful of 7-5 teams but there are a couple that could get there we have to keep an eye on. Arizona State plays at Arizona and if they win they can become bowl eligible for a spot."
Other mid-major programs that could impact NC State's destination include the potential bowl eligible teams from the Sun Belt Conference. Troy is 7-4 and already bowl eligible. Should Troy defeat Arkansas State this weekend, they will win the conference and likely play in the New Orleans Bowl. However, this summer the league signed agreements with the St. Petersburg Bowl, the Papajohns.com Bowl and the Independence Bowl stating the Sun Belt would have a chance to participate in those bowls if other conferences couldn't fill their allotted spots. Arkansas State is the only other team in the league with a chance at reaching seven wins, but Florida Atlantic has six wins and the winner of Saturday's Middle Tennessee/Louisiana-Lafayette game will improve to 6-6 on the season.
Potentially the Sun Belt could have Troy at 8-4 or 7-5, Arkansas State at 7-5 or 6-6, Florida Atlantic at 6-6, and Middle Tennessee State or Louisiana-Lafayette at 6-6. Do the bowl agreements signed by the Sun Belt only give their teams with at least seven wins priority over other at-large teams, or would a 6-6 team from the Sun Belt have priority over a team in NC State's situation due to agreements?
"My understanding is the Sun Belt Conference has a champion that will go to the New Orleans Bowl," said Kelly. "They have a secondary agreement that if they do have another 7-5 team they would go to the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham... if there was availability there. They have basically a backup... with the proximity of there schools, where if there is a 7-5 team in their league they would be able to secure a spot there and it appears that is an agreement they made with that bowl. Arkansas State plays at Troy next week and they could get to 7-5 with a win.
"However, those agreements do not include 6-6 teams from the Sun Belt. Papa John's could take a 6-6 team from the Sun Belt if they would like, but they are only obligated to take them if they go 7-5. If [Arkansas State] lost and stayed at 6-6, that could possibly be a new opportunity for State, Clemson, or any of our teams that might not fit in our current slots."
Clemson is also in a unique situation. The Tigers check in at 7-5, but two of those wins are against FCS opponents. Because they had to win a seventh game, do they have priority over a 6-6 NC State?
"That's an excellent question," said Kelly. "I don't really have an answer to that right now. It's something we have to explore. We knew they had to get to seven wins to get eligible, but how they are viewed after that I need to talk to some other people who could answer that for me. I'm not sure that has happened before in a situation like we have here."
Kelly suggests that fans take a wait-and-see approach. The league will be working with the various bowls and conferences over the next few days to ensure that all of the bowl eligible teams are accounted for.
"I think next Sunday will be a big movement day," he said. "Our conference champion will be decided and all of those weekend games will be over so we will know which bowl slots are open and which teams are available.
"It looks very strong that we'll find a home for all our teams, but as to where it is a muddy picture."