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Tuesday, May 27, 2014
ACC in ESPN's bowl projections

By Jared Shanker

It’s never too early to come out with a college football top 25, so why should it be deemed too early for a projection of which teams will land at which of the -- can’t believe it’s this many -- 38 bowl games.

Colleagues Brett McMurphy and Mark Schlabach posted their projections earlier this week, and here is a look at where they see ACC teams landing.

Military: North Carolina vs. UConn
Russell Athletic: Clemson vs. Kansas State
Duck Commander: Duke vs. Louisiana Tech
BBVA: Georgia Tech vs. East Carolina
St. Petersburg: UCF vs. Pitt
Pinstripe: Miami vs. Michigan
Sun: Louisville vs. Arizona State
Belk: Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State
Detroit: Syracuse vs. Illinois
Orange: Florida State vs. South Carolina

Military: Pittsburgh vs. East Carolina
Music City: North Carolina vs. Mississippi State
Duck Commander: Georgia Tech vs. Louisiana Tech
St. Petersburg: UCF vs. Louisville
Pinstripe: Virginia Tech vs. Northwestern
Sun: Duke vs. Arizona State
Belk: Miami vs. Missouri
Detroit: Syracuse vs. Indiana
Orange: Clemson vs. Auburn
Sugar: Florida State vs. Michigan State

Rashad Greene
Rashad Greene and Florida State are among the favorites again in the first year of the College Football Playoff.
Two things immediately stick out with their projections, both surrounding the conference’s two best teams from 2013. Schlabach, who has Florida State as his preseason No. 1, has the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl against Michigan State as a College Football Playoff semifinal. He also has Clemson going back to the Orange Bowl, which, when it is not a playoff semifinal, still has an ACC tie-in even as as some of the other “New Year’s Six” bowl games lose their former conference affiliations. McMurphy breaks down how the selections for the elite bowls will be made.

As for McMurphy, he has Florida State in the Orange Bowl, which means the Noles are his pick as ACC champion. However, the Orange Bowl is not a semifinal this year, which means McMurphy believes the reigning champion will not be in the inaugural College Football Playoff. He has FSU playing South Carolina, which in its own right would still be a fantastic game, as Steve Spurrier has built the Gamecocks’ defense into one of the best in the country annually. There are rumors he also knows a thing or two about offense.

He also has Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, a step below last year’s Orange Bowl. I happen to like Schlabach’s projection a little more, purely for selfish reasons. Who wouldn’t want to see that Clemson defensive line take its shot at Guz Malzahn’s offense at Auburn? Stopping Auburn’s uptempo spread offense is predicated on having a stout defensive line. Plus, Malzahn and Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris are two of the brightest minds in college football.

The ACC loses its Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl tie-in, which means McMurphy and Schlabach don’t see any conference teams outside of Florida State (and Clemson for Schlabach) having great seasons. There is no longer a two-team limit for the major bowl games, as there was during the BCS era, but neither expects an ACC school in the mix to get two bids. With McMurphy projecting Florida State to the Orange Bowl, Clemson loses that potential tie-in game and was dropped to the Russell Athletic Bowl. It was not much of a surprise to see Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech lumped in as the teams in the next group below FSU and Clemson.

While neither projects the ACC to have more than a team or two in the mix for major bowl games in 2014, the good news is that the College Football Playoff and bowl game restructuring opens the door for some better games and venues that ACC teams typically don't play in. Auburn is projected in this simulation to the Orange Bowl, which still has the ACC tie-in but no longer the at-large opponent. Instead it is a school from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame.

No ACC team was ranked high enough for McMurphy or Schlabach to place it in the Cotton Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, two other games that ACC teams rarely play in. Florida State could go back to Pasadena, Calif., for a semifinal game, and while the Noles played in the Rose Bowl last season, a conference team has never played in the Rose Bowl game. The new format opens the door for that.

So while the projections are not overly optimistic for 2014 in the ACC, there is some hope on the horizon.