ACC bowl partners in Charlotte or Washington might want to invite N.C. State to their game, but the NCAA might not allow it.
Under ACC rules, N.C. State can play in any of the conference’s bowl tie-ins except the Orange Bowl. Under a relatively new NCAA rule, N.C. State could get left out of the conference bowl lineup and perhaps the postseason altogether.
The Wolfpack finished the regular season 6-6 overall, the minimum number of wins for bowl eligibility, but it is 4-4 in the ACC, which is either tied with or within one game of the nine other ACC bowl-eligible teams, which technically opens the door from Atlanta (Chik-fil-A Bowl) to Washington (EagleBank Bowl) for the Wolfpack.
But, and here comes the confusing and potentially disappointing part for the Wolfpack:
The ACC has 10 bowl-eligible teams and nine conference tie-ins. According to the NCAA Postseason Football Handbook, the ACC is required to fill its bowl slots with 7-win teams before 6-win teams.
N.C. State is the only bowl-eligible team with six wins, which under NCAA rule, leaves the Wolfpack on the outside looking in.
The NCAA doesn’t legislate the bowls, though. The bowls are contracted by the conferences and the two sides — not the NCAA — determine which teams plays where.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” said ACC associate commissioner Michael Kelly who coordinates the conference’s bowl contracts. “We have to get to the bottom of [the NCAA] rule and work with our bowl partners and the NCAA. It might be another seven days before we have an answer.”
Will Webb, the executive director of the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, said he believes the NCAA rule is open to interpretation.
“It’s really a matter of everyone working together,” Webb said. “As long as the [ACC] can find a home for all of its 7-5 teams, [the ACC bowl partners] can take a 6-6 team.”
The NCAA handbook explicitly states no such deal is allowed to occur but the ACC might have a potential way around it. Sean Metcalf, the head of the first-year EagleBank Bowl, said Maryland (7-5) has informed him that it cannot play in their game because the date, Dec. 20, conflicts with the university’s exam schedule.
The ACC could work with the NCAA to put State in the EagleBank Bowl, which picks ninth in the ACC’s bowl order, and broker a deal for the Terrapins.
N.C. State's exams are earlier in December, leaving them free to play on bowl's date.
“We’re going to deal with that this week, once everything with the ACC gets cleared up,” Metcalf said.
The good news for State is there is a shortage of bowl-eligible teams in the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10 conferences, which means there will be at least three potential bowls for the Wolfpack if it is frozen out of the ACC lineup.
If the SEC and Big 12 each send two teams to the Bowl Championship Series bowls — and given Sunday’s BCS standings, that’s all but certain — then there will be at-large openings in the PapaJohns.com Bowl, the Texas Bowl and both spots in the Independence Bowl. If Ohio State is picked for a BCS bowl, a fourth at-large bowl, the Motor City Bowl, would be available.
A 6-6 team cannot be chosen for at-large spot over a team with a record of 7-5 or better. That means one team from the Mid-American Conference — 9-3 Western Michigan, 8-4 Central Michigan or 7-5 Buffalo — has to fill one of the at-large spots. The MAC has bowl-tie ins for two of those teams.
If Arkansas State (6-5) beats Troy (7-4) on Saturday, the Sun Belt Conference would have two 7-5 teams and Troy would be locked into the PapaJohns.com Bowl.
If Troy wins, and the game is at Troy, the Sun Belt would only have one bowl team, and the other at-large spots would remain open for the 6-6 teams.
N.C. State and Notre Dame are the only 6-6 teams from the BCS without a conference bowl tie-in. Louisville (5-6) and Arizona State (5-6) could join them in the at-large pool with wins this week.
At best, N.C. State’s looking at four open at-large spots. At worst, there could be two spots for four 6-6 BCS teams. There will be five 6-6 teams from outside the BCS conferences by the end of the week.
Wolfpack athletic director Lee Fowler has been working with Kelly and ACC commissioner John Swofford about his program’s bowl future.
“We want the best situation we can find,” Fowler said.
That might have to be a destination outside the ACC’s bowl lineup.