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Syracuse 13th in College Football Playoff rankings: What are bowl possibilities?

Another explainer on what all of this means, a week after the last one.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, it was great to see the Syracuse Orange move up to 13th in both the AP and Coaches polls, but the rankings that really matter when it comes to bowl games (and the number next to our name on TV) are the College Football Playoff committee’s.

Those were released on Tuesday night, and SU jumped six spots there, up to 13th as well:

I’d ask what this reality is, but well... we haven’t known for the last week or so. And that’s fine. Syracuse is now a top-15 team in the College Football Playoff rankings, and only one spot removed from the top 12. If the season ended today, the top 12 teams would all be guaranteed spots in New Year’s Six Bowls since all P5 conference champs are in that group.

Obviously the season doesn’t end today, though, so we’re left with a little uncertainty about what this will mean for the Orange. In the short-term, it means there’s a No. 13 next to their name. In the long-term, we do have a clear path to a New Year’s Six game (the Peach or Fiesta Bowl) if we manage to win out. That’s not necessarily a guarantee with No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 17 Boston College still up ahead (and neither game at home).

Since you’re likely curious once more, we revisit the access bowl question from last week, and apply it to this week’s rankings:

What happens if Syracuse wins out?

It’s an absolute certainty the Orange would be invited to the Peach or Fiesta Bowl should they win out, since that run would include two currently ranked teams away from the Carrier Dome. Notre Dame would be the big trophy there, and would certainly vault SU into the top 10 at bare minimum (maybe as high as seventh depending on how the game played out). A win over the Irish on a neutral field would be among the best victories on any team’s resume, and coupled with our close loss at Clemson and a win over highly-ranked (14th) NC State, it would give the committee every reason to buy in.

Should Syracuse beat Boston College the following week, they could potentially move up with losses elsewhere. But really, this is not team that can make the top four, even with significant chaos around them. Fifth is the highest a 10-2 SU team goes and even then, that’s with a TON of help.

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

That could very well depend on which game the Orange lose.

Once again, we use win probabilities for the rest of the season according to S&P+ to look at SU’s future and the teams around us in the rankings. Here’s where things currently net out:

*keep in mind conference championship games are projections by me, not actual figures

A 9-3 Syracuse team with a win over Notre Dame probably stays in front of Kentucky and maybe hops UCF. If West Virginia can avoid going 0-2 against Oklahoma (final week, plus Big 12 title game), the Mountaineers can stay ahead, as can LSU without any more losses. NC State, despite the fact that Syracuse beat them already, has four more very winnable games and could easily be 10-2. They could end up sitting above Syracuse, as could a 10-2 OSU. Still, as long as all P5 champs are in the top 12, I think the Orange would sneak in as the final team.

If the win’s over Boston College, it’s a lot less likely they’d be able to leap over anyone currently above them (or maybe a two-loss NC State) to get in. Again, would take some chaos to move a couple mountains out of the way. There’s also the double-edged sword that Syracuse needs NC State to keep winning to prop up its best win. But a 10-2 Wolfpack are also the best chance to knock a three-loss SU team out of the top 12.

The ACC bowl selection process

For one, see this graphic.

Two of every three years, the ACC champion goes to the Orange Bowl unless that team is in the CFP. Then the next-best team heads to the Orange Bowl instead. That also opens up the Citrus Bowl for the ACC team after that, with the Camping World Bowl sitting third in the lineup — fourth if an ACC team makes the top four.

Bad news for Syracuse (and NC State and BC): the Orange Bowl’s a semifinal game this year, and there are no guarantees for the ACC in the Fiesta or Peach Bowls unless they have another non-Clemson team in the top 12. That’s why the situations described above are so critical. They’re the only way SU gets into one of those access bowl slots.

As mentioned, the Citrus Bowl tie is also part of the Orange Bowl rotation too, so no Citrus for the second-best ACC team this year either. That’s how you end up with the Camping World Bowl being your top non-NY6 possibility.

For the Camping World Bowl, the organizers will have their pick, and win probabilities currently say NC State finishes ahead of us there and gets the nod. They’re obviously not better than us, since we beat them. But they’re a closer, bigger fan base that travels well enough. If they had the same record, Syracuse could potentially get an invite over BC, however.

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

Then what?

Then if Syracuse doesn’t make the Camping World Bowl, they’re going to the Pinstripe Bowl. It’s close to us, we’re the best non-ND/PSU draw they have and there are so many alums in the NYC area ready to hype the game. Bowls want people in seats, and the Orange fulfill that goal for the Pinstripe.

It’s feasible the other Tier 1 games (Music City, Belk, Sun) would be interested. But anytime the Orange haven’t been to the Pinstripe Bowl in at least 2-3 years, they’ll be in the Bronx unless they’re either NY6/Camping World/Citrus levels of good, or 6-6 and up against like BC, Pitt, Louisville and ND for the spot.

There’s dissonance here for Syracuse fans because we made the Pinstripe Bowl twice as a 7-5 Big East team, so wouldn’t we “have to” go to a better game at 8-4/9-3 in the ACC? Usually, yes. But the Pinstripe’s actually pretty high on the bowl list in terms of payout, we’re knocked down two pegs because of the Orange Bowl arrangement this year, and again: proximity.

Feel more informed? Just focused on the part where I mentioned “top five” (even if I added any and all caveats imaginable)? Share your own thoughts below.