ACC's complicated bowl picture starting to take shape
Heading into the final weeks of the regular season, the Atlantic Coast Conference's bowl picture is starting to take shape.
Behind them are a half-dozen other ACC teams either trying to jockey for better bowl positioning, or just trying to claw their way into the postseason.
Others still have some work to do just to earn an extra December or January game.
For the ones headed to bowls, exactly where they will wind up playing is largely out of their hands. For the ACC-affiliated games, the choices pretty much rest with the bowls themselves.
Michael Strickland, the league's senior associate commissioner of football operations, said ''factual input'' received from the schools is a factor.
''Certainly (schools) don't have veto rights to say, `You cannot send me here,' nor do they have the rights to say, `You must send me to this bowl,''' Strickland said.
''We have foundational selection guidelines and parameters, but as long as those parameters are followed, our bowl partners make the ultimate selections,'' he said. ''We have no authority as the ACC to say, `You must take this team because we said so.' We intentionally did not want to secure that.''
There's also no safety net for the team that loses the ACC championship game, but Strickland said the league is ''confident that all of the other parameters that we've got in place provides protection'' and that ''it would take a very unique set of circumstances'' for the title-game loser to slip past the league's first tier of four bowls.
Sorting out the league's bowl picture can be a complicated process.
Top-ranked Clemson can make part of it easy. Keep winning, and the Tigers (9-0, No. 1 CFP) will earn a spot in a semifinal.
A Coastal Division champion - most likely, North Carolina - that beats Clemson in the league title game would earn no worse than the Peach or Fiesta bowl.
The Orange Bowl, which usually welcomes the ACC champion, is out of the picture this year because it is hosting a semifinal.
Things get a bit tougher to figure out after that.
There's a chance Florida State (7-2, No. 16 CFP) could climb high enough in the playoff poll to earn an at-large spot in either the Peach or Fiesta. If not, the Seminoles will drop into the pool of teams for the league's other bowls to consider.
And Notre Dame (8-1, No. 4 CFP) will receive one of the ACC's bowl slots - the Russell Athletic Bowl has first choice - if it doesn't make the semifinals or one of the major New Year's Six bowls.
After the playoffs and those major bowls choose which team they want, the next pick goes to the Russell Athletic.
After that comes a group of four bowls that decide their ACC teams together: the Belk, Sun, Pinstripe and either the Taxslayer or Music City bowls. This year, if the Taxslayer doesn't want an ACC team, the Music City gets one.
Strickland said those bowls decide among themselves which schools they will take, making ''a collective decision'' that gives them some flexibility to arrange more attractive matchups.
The ACC's next tier of bowls - the Military, Indepedence and Quick Lane bowls - make the same kind of group decision when picking from the remaining teams. The St. Petersburg Bowl is the first backup if it has an opening and the ACC has more bowl-eligible teams.
Confused? That's understandable, it's a lot to sort out - maybe even too much for everyone in the middle of it all.
''We've all thought about it,'' North Carolina lineman Landon Turner said. ''But the emphasis is certainly on who we're playing next. Because there's not really a lot of time in the week to look ahead for any of us as players.''
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joedy-mccreary
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