After Miami lost to Virginia Tech Thursday night in Blacksburg, Va., it represented one step forward for Georgia Tech’s minute chances to make it to the ACC championship game in Orlando, Fla. With losses to Coastal members Miami and Pittsburgh and a 1-3 ACC record, the Yellow Jackets need both teams to get to at least three ACC losses, and Thursday night’s defeat dropped defeat No. 3 in the Hurricanes’ lap. (Miami has lost three in a row – to Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech – after its impressive win over the Jackets Oct. 1.)
In response, Tech’s chances of winning the ACC improved from 0.0 percent to 0.1 percent, according to ESPN’s football power index projections (alas, they dropped back down to 0.0 after North Carolina beat Virginia Saturday). But what are the chances of the Jackets actually making it to Orlando?
One answer - as of Saturday morning (prior to the UNC-UVA result), .3 percent. That’s also according to ESPN. (Thanks to ESPN’s David Hale for providing me with that number.)
If the Jackets can run the table and beat Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Virginia (a considerable “if”), it’s not out of the question. First – going 4-0 against that slate is a tall order. ESPN gives it a probability of 3.7 percent. I’d agree it’s a remote possibility. It’s going to depend a lot on whether Tech’s defense can make improvements, particularly on its third-down defense, and if the progress demonstrated by the offense against Pitt and Georgia Southern are legitimate.
But I tend to align with coach Paul Johnson’s recent assessment of the division -- there isn’t a lot separating the teams in the division with the possible exception of Virginia Tech. To use a cliché, it looks like any can be beaten on a given day. As strong as the Hokies have looked, they also lost to Syracuse. North Carolina beat Pitt on the last play from scrimmage, and Georgia Tech lost to Pitt on the last play of the game. Miami looked dominant in starting 4-0 but has lost three in a row.
But, here’s how it could happen – the oft hoped for Coastal Chaos scenario. Five teams – Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech – all finish at 5-3.
Wins: Boston College, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Virginia
Losses: Clemson, Pittsburgh, Miami
(Results in the books are bolded)
Wins: Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Virginia, N.C. State, Duke
Losses: Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Wins: Florida State, Miami, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Duke
Losses: Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, N.C. State
Wins: Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke, Syracuse
Losses: North Carolina, Miami, Clemson
Wins: Boston College, Miami, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia
Losses: Syracuse, Pitt, Georgia Tech
In this scenario, all five teams would be 5-3 and they would have to go to a newly instituted tiebreaker using a computer ranking system to break it. All the tiebreakers – head to head among tied teams, division record, head-to-head record against other teams in the division (Duke and UVA would have to lose to all five teams) and non-division league record would not separate the teams. The next tiebreaker – record against common non-division opponents – would not apply since there wouldn’t be an Atlantic team that played all five teams would not apply.
How unlikely is this? From a probability standpoint of all of these outcomes taking place, obviously highly unlikely. The most likely scenario is that Virginia Tech wins the division. If the Hokies can get past Pittsburgh on the road Thursday night, Virginia Tech has Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia left, all games in which it figures to be favored.
However, from a game-by-game standpoint, it’s not outrageous. Obviously, Georgia Tech running the table would be very unlikely, though I won't say it can't happen. However, of the other games in this scenario, there’s only one game that, according to ESPN, would constitute an upset, N.C. State over North Carolina.
You could make this simpler (so to speak) and knock out Miami and Pitt with a fourth league loss and still keep North Carolina and Virginia Tech at 5-3, but that would be a more unlikely scenario and not nearly as fun as five teams at 5-3. And Tech might need both the Hurricanes and Panthers to end up at 4-4 or worse, because if one of those teams stayed alive, there’s a better chance that they could eliminate Tech on the basis of their head-to-head wins over the Jackets.
For instance, let’s say N.C. State beats Miami and the Hurricanes finish at 4-4. Then, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Miami would be tied at 5-3 and Pittsburgh would win the division. North Carolina and Virginia Tech would be eliminated with a 1-2 record against the other 5-3 teams, leaving Pitt and Tech, and Pitt would win the head-to-head tiebreaker.
But, let’s say the five teams tie at 5-3 and there’s no on-field tiebreaker. The ACC instituted a new tiebreaker this year to replace what had been the seventh tiebreaker – College Football Playoff selection committee ranking. The CFP ranking is untenable because it would come out on Tuesday before the ACC title game, and the matchup would need to be set before then.
The ACC voted this summer to use a ranking system provided by SportSource Analytics, the Atlanta-based data analytics company that the CFP selection committee uses. Using a variety of data, including record, strength of schedule and a variety of other statistics, the company also has a rating system not unlike other computer ranking models that it provides to subscribers.
(Should the company’s ranking model ever be required to break a tie involving the Jackets, non-Tech fan bases would likely go berserk. One of the company’s founders, Scott Prather, is a graduate of the institute.)
In this five-way tie scenario, there’s no telling where Tech would rank, but it’s perhaps the most likely path for the Jackets to get to Orlando. Or at least the most interesting.
Obviously, the very large hurdle in this scenario is, again, Tech winning its next four games. If that were to happen, in some respects, it would almost be immaterial if the Jackets were to play in the ACC title game. They would be 8-3, possibly ranked, and would have far exceeded expectations.