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Syracuse football’s most reasonable path to an access bowl invite

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“So you’re saying there’s a chance?”

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Washington v Alabama Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

If we weren’t already excited enough about the Syracuse Orange going bowling and earning a ranking in the AP and Coaches Polls for the first time since 2001, there’s some news to share: SU is ranked 19th in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season as well.

That makes Syracuse the second-best ACC team in the only poll that matters (behind Clemson), but unfortunately since the Orange bowl is one of the semifinal games this year, that doesn’t really do anything for us.

In two out of every three years, the Orange Bowl takes the ACC champion, unless that team is in the top four. Then they invite the second-best team instead according to the playoff rankings. In years when the Orange is a semifinal matchup, either the Peach or Fiesta Bowl is obligated to take the ACC champ — but not the next ACC team down the line if the champ makes the top four.

Syracuse v Clemson Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

With Clemson currently ranked No. 2 overall and likely to win the league, nothing is guaranteed for Syracuse or any second-ranked ACC squad unless they finish among the top 12 (and even then, there are some caveats).

However, there’s still a CHANCE that the Orange could get themselves to an access bowl (Peach/Fiesta), especially with them up at No. 19 and ahead of both Virginia and BC (and NC State, who they beat already). Here’s the basics on how that could occur. Please keep in mind I’m not saying it will be any means:

Win out

That’s the most direct way, obviously. Winning four more games gets Syracuse to 10-2 and pretty much assures them of a top-12 spot in the rankings. The Wake Forest and Louisville games don’t matter a ton in terms of gaining additional prestige. However, games against the current No. 4 (Notre Dame) and No. 22 (Boston College) teams in the rankings — both away from home — are going to count for a whole lot. The ND win alone should be enough to get SU into the top 15, no matter what happens elsewhere.

Below is a look at the current top 25, and win probabilities for the rest of the season, according to S&P+. For the championship games, I’ve approximated these figures, so please don’t yell at Bill Connelly if you think they’re incorrect.

Given Syracuse’s current projections, they’d potentially end up moving down a couple spots at 8-4, with Fresno State and Virginia leaping over them. But obviously once the actual games are played, the fractions go away and you’re left with hard wins and losses.

This is where teams with a lot of red above (higher probability of loss than win) get dinged. But it’s also where those teams have the most opportunity to improve their station. So for Syracuse, a win over ND alone ups the win probability to 8.77 wins. Winning out obviously gets the actual total to 10. If all other probabilities above stay the same, that puts them somewhere around ninth — safety within the mark for selection in the Peach or Fiesta Bowls.

Could Syracuse lose one game and still make an access bowl?

This would be tricky, but not impossible. Winning the two games they’re favored in (Wake, Louisville) and the one they’re less of an underdog in (Boston College) boosts the win total to nine. But that number might not get Syracuse any higher than 12th — a tricky spot if the Big Ten, Pac-12 and/or Big 12 champ comes from outside the top 12. Then the “safe” line is higher up due to automatic tie-ins.

The assured way to get in with one loss would be beating Notre Dame. Still: You’re a three-loss team, but look at the list above and the line for three-loss teams could start as early as eighth or ninth. Plus with a win over the Irish away from home, you’re probably near the front of that line. Where SU could get tripped up is if a) other teams in that nine-win projection range exceed expectations, b) if Notre Dame takes on water, or c) the other loss is a double-digit defeat to Wake or Louisville.

Right now, Syracuse’s best arguments are a win over NC State and a close loss to Clemson on the road — plus the fact that their second loss was in overtime against an improving Pitt team. Getting blown out would lower the idea of SU’s “floor” in the eyes of the committee. Not a great look.

Connecticut v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Can Syracuse get into an access bowl at 8-4?

Nope.

How does Syracuse get invited to the Camping World Bowl?

The Camping World Bowl is in Orlando and is the top non-Playoff bowl game for the ACC this year. So if Clemson makes the top four, and no other ACC team makes the top 12, the next-best team goes here to face one of the better Big 12 squads.

However, there’s also a caveat here: Notre Dame can be slotted into any ACC bowl game as long as they’re within a win of the team in question. So Syracuse beating Notre Dame probably doesn’t knock them out of the top 12 (giving them an access bowl slot). But a two-loss Fighting Irish team could drop and that may mean they’d get to cut the line for the Camping World Bowl.

If that doesn’t happen, the game wouldn’t necessarily be obligated to pick Syracuse if they were the top remaining ACC team, but they likely would.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - West Virginia v Syracuse Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

What if Syracuse doesn’t get invited to the Camping World Bowl?

Then they’re headed to the Pinstripe Bowl. Sorry.

The next tier of bowls have equal selection status. So it’s between the Pinstripe, Belk, Music City and Sun for the top non-Playoff/Camping World ACC spots. Looking at current standings, SU would be in the running for these games with Virginia, Boston College, NC State and probably Miami and/or Duke. The Eagles played in last year’s Pinstripe. Belk and Music City would pick nearby schools like NCSU, UVA and Duke. The Sun Bowl gets interesting but we probably wouldn’t draw enough (though State was just there).

Since we already know Pinstripe officials are interested — and why wouldn’t they want New York’s College Team (TM) and the all-time winningest Pinstripe Bowl program? — the Bronx just seems like a lock. At least if it happens this time, we’re likely off their radar for another couple years.

This make you feel better? Worse? Toss your questions or snide commentary in below.