Looking at Georgia Tech’s bowl picture

Georgia Tech’s win over then-No. 17 Virginia Tech on Saturday accomplished a number of things.

One, it kept alive the Yellow Jackets’ goal of going undefeated at home, something they have done just twice (1990 and 1999) since coach Bobby Dodd’s retirement in 1966. Two, it improved coach Paul Johnson’s home record against ranked opponents to 9-4. Three, it moved Tech a big step forward toward bowl eligibility.

The Jackets are 5-4 with two games remaining, Saturday at Duke and Nov. 25 against Georgia. They can secure their 20th bowl appearance in 21 seasons with a win over the Blue Devils.

Johnson isn’t worrying about bowls yet.

“Nobody knows how that’s going to sort out until you get through the season anyway,” Johnson said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

If they can collect a sixth win, Tech’s hopes to play in as premier a bowl as possible rest with Miami, Clemson and Notre Dame continuing to win. If either Miami or Clemson is chosen to play in the College Football Playoff, then the other can play in the Orange Bowl as the ACC representative. Notre Dame can play in any ACC bowl (except the Orange Bowl as the conference representative), so Tech and other ACC teams would be better off if the Fighting Irish can win a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl and leave the other ACC bowl slots open.

Most likely, the next spot for an ACC team would be the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla., which would seem a logical destination for N.C. State. The Wolfpack are likely to take over for Virginia Tech as the next highest-ranked ACC team after Clemson and Miami in Tuesday night’s latest CFP rankings.

After that, the ACC bowl selection format calls for the next four bowls – the Belk in Charlotte, N.C.; the Sun in El Paso, Texas; the Pinstripe in New York and either the TaxSlayer in Jacksonville, Fla.; and the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn. – to select in concert with each other, the league and the schools.

The TaxSlayer and Music City share a spot; the two are committed to taking three ACC teams and three Big Ten teams over a six-year term. With the TaxSlayer having picked two Big Ten teams already in three years, it’s likely to even the balance with another ACC team.

For those games, Tech is in a pool with possibly five other teams – Virginia Tech (7-3), Wake Forest (6-4), Louisville (6-4), Virginia (6-4) and Boston College (5-5). Syracuse, Duke and Pitt are still also alive at 4-6 each, as is Florida State at 3-6.

Out of these four bowls, the TaxSlayer, having invited Tech last year, is definitely out and the Sun would be an unlikely choice, as the Jackets went there back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012. That leaves the Belk (Dec. 29) and the Pinstripe (Dec. 27). Tech has never played in either game.

Both hold appeal. The Belk is close to Tech’s fan base and is an ACC-SEC matchup. The Pinstripe, against the Big Ten, would offer a Christmastime trip to New York for players and coaches and a game in Yankee Stadium. Sports Illustrated slotted the Jackets for the Pinstripe.

Obviously, Tech’s candidacy for the Pinstripe or the Belk looks far better with seven wins than six.

After those four “tier one” bowls, the following three bowls select in order – the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., and the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. The Jackets went to the Independence in 2010. It was not a terribly popular trip among players.

ESPN’s two bowl projectionists and USA Today picked Tech for the Independence. CBS Sports projected Tech to the Quick Lane Bowl.

With a 12th game unlikely, should Tech finish at 5-6, the Jackets can apply for a waiver with the NCAA to receive bowl eligibility. But, even if they received it, it would be no certainty that they would get into a bowl game. First, there would have to be bowl games that weren’t able to fill their spots with bowl-eligible teams. (According to Wright Waters, executive director for the Football Bowl Association, 2017 is slightly ahead of pace for bowl-eligible teams than 2016, when two 5-7 teams played in bowl games.)

Second, there is a pecking order for teams that don’t receive conventional bowl eligibility – six wins in a 12-game schedule, with only one of the wins against an FCS opponent that uses at least 90 percent of its scholarship allotment – and 5-7 teams are at the bottom. For instance, teams that finish 6-6 and have a win over an FCS team that doesn’t use at least 90 percent of its scholarship allotment are ahead on the priority list over 5-7 teams.

Third, 5-7 teams are selected based on Academic Progress Rate score, and Tech is behind a few teams, including Air Force, Vanderbilt, Minnesota and Duke, that could finish at 5-7 and have higher APR scores than the Jackets.

Tech would be wise to remove all doubt by winning a sixth game.

Said Johnson, “I’d like to get to seven, actually.”

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