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Week 9 ACC Bowl Projections — Syracuse Set on Sunshine?

Following a heartbreaking loss to the Clemson Tigers, the Syracuse Orange are looking to get back on the winning track in a sellout home game against Notre Dame. While the Orange's chances of winning the ACC are likely eliminated, Syracuse still has a very realistic path toward one of the conference's top bowl slots.

The ACC has at least nine, iron-clad bowl affiliations, with potential for more destinations if need be, including the College Football Playoff and ReliaQuest Bowl. Linked here is a list of the bowls affiliated with the ACC this year. The way I've decided to weigh whether an ACC team makes a bowl or not will rely on ESPN's FPI projections. I've also found handy conference ranking tie-in's via this Athletic projections article.

Clemson

Projected record: 12-1

Result: College Football Playoff — Peach Bowl vs. Georgia

Reasoning: It's the same projection as last week for the Tigers, who are in the driver's seat of the ACC following wins against Wake Forest and Syracuse — the two teams that had the best shot to dethrone them. Clemson is unlikely to face another ranked team this season until a potential battle against North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game. The Tigers have looked vulnerable, but given their history and pedigree, this seems like a team that is primed to make another CFP appearance.

Wake Forest

Projected record: 9-3

Result: Orange Bowl vs. Penn State

Reasoning: The Demon Deacons have three straight ranked opponents coming soon — a road game at NC State, followed by home games against UNC and Syracuse — that will determine whether this team makes a New Year's Six bowl game. Wake Forest has yet to make it over the hump despite previous success, but I do think this is shaping up to be the year that Sam Hartman and Co. finally pull it off. While the Orange Bowl is usually played between the ACC and SEC, a Big Ten team could be selected if it ranks higher than the best eligible SEC team. I think that happens here, with Penn State finishing higher in the CFP rankings than teams such as Ole Miss, LSU and Kentucky.

Syracuse

Projected record: 9-3

Result: ReliaQuest Bowl vs. LSU

Reasoning: The ReliaQuest Bowl, played in Tampa, is usually reserved for Big Ten and SEC teams. However, if the Orange Bowl selects a Big Ten team, rather than an SEC team to face the Orange Bowl's ACC team, then the ReliaQuest Bowl will take an ACC team. With Penn State headed to the Orange Bowl, I think Syracuse ends up taking the newfound ACC spot for this game. With Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama all likely headed to the CFP and/or New Year's Six games, the next best spots up for grabs for SEC teams in this situation are the Citrus Bowl and ReliaQuest Bowl. Even though LSU beat Ole Miss earlier this season, I still have the Rebels finishing the year with a better record than the Tigers, giving them a leg up in the SEC standings and ultimately, a Citrus Bowl berth. The result: Syracuse takes on Brian Kelly in his first year at LSU in a huge opportunity for the Orange to cement their season with a major bowl win.

North Carolina

Projected record: 9-4

Result: Cheez-It Bowl vs. Texas

Reasoning: It's the same projection as last week. The Tar Heels, per FPI, have an 85 percent chance to win the Coastal Division, which I think they ultimately will do, then lose in the ACC Championship Game to Clemson. The Cheez-It Bowl is what used to be the Camping World Bowl, and this game features the second pick from the ACC following the New Year's Six selections against the third pick from the Big 12. With two huge, brand-name programs, this game would be one to watch for a lot of college football fans — especially with Mack Brown going up against his former Longhorns.

North Carolina State

Projected record: 8-4

Result: Duke's Mayo Bowl vs. Maryland

Reasoning: It's the same projection as last week. The Wolfpack get to play a de facto home game in Charlotte and can draw in plenty of fans for this game. Despite losing quarterback Devin Leary for the season, this NC State team still has a stout defense and should have no problem reaching a bowl game. However, they are no likely to reach higher than fourth in the ACC Atlantic division. Maryland, while improving as a program, is still a clear step behind Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, and I have them pegged as the #6 Big Ten team slated for this bowl game.

Florida State

Projected record: 7-5

Result: Gator Bowl vs. Kentucky

Reasoning: It's the same projection as last week. The Seminoles started out strong this season, but have since lost three straight games. However, this team still has premium talent and has shown enough improvements that indicate they should be able to get back to a bowl game. The Gator Bowl, played in Jacksonville, would be another sort of de facto home game for the ACC against a formidable SEC opponent in the Wildcats.

Notre Dame

Projected record: 7-5

Result: Holiday Bowl vs. Utah

Reasoning: The Fighting Irish, as noted last week, can 'steal' a bowl game bid from another ACC team if they are within one game of them respectively. In this situation, Notre Dame snags a spot in one of the ACC's #3-5 games (the others being the Gator and Duke's Mayo bowl games) and takes on Utah, who I project will be the #4 PAC-12 team behind Oregon, UCLA and USC.

Pittsburgh

Projected record: 7-5

Result: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Purdue

Reasoning: The Panthers have underwhelmed at points this season, particularly in the passing game behind USC transfer Kedon Slovis. Despite offensive woes in several games, I still think this Panthers team finishes the year strong and qualifies for the Pinstripe Bowl as the #6 ACC team. In this scenario, I have Purdue as the #5 Big Ten team that they would be playing. The Boilermakers have been a solid team this year and would present a good Power Five matchup for Pittsburgh to end the year.

Duke

Projected record: 7-5

Result: Sun Bowl vs. Washington

Reasoning: The Blue Devils pulled off a surprising upset on the road against Miami, forcing eight Hurricanes turnovers, and are just one step away from bowl eligibility. The Sun Bowl features the #7 ACC team taking on the #5 PAC-12 team, in a strong opportunity for Duke to prove its mettle.

Louisville

Projected record: 6-6

Result: Military Bowl vs. Tulane

Reasoning: The Cardinals are coming off a solid win at home against Pittsburgh, but still have work to do to qualify for a bowl game with a tough schedule ahead. If the Cardinals reach 6-6, I have them qualifying as the #8 ACC team and playing in this Annapolis game. Since Louisville already played UCF earlier this season, they'll instead take on Tulane, who has jumped into the Top 25 with impressive play this year.

Teams projected to miss bowl games: Miami, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Boston College