After finishing the season 8-4, the Demon Deacons are going bowling for the fourth straight time under Head Coach Dave Clawson, making it a record for most consecutive bowl trips in school history.
There’s no question that this season should be remembered as a continuation of Clawson’s success at the helm of Wake Forest football; however close losses to Louisville and Syracuse ultimately hampered the Deacs chances of going back to the Orange Bowl for the first time since 2006. So, with that being said, what should Wake Forest fans expect on Selection Sunday as a possible bowl destination for the Deacs? An honest response: Who knows?
The whole ACC bowl picture is murkier than ever this year, with many teams with bowl-eligible records but no true powerhouse outside of Clemson. Virginia probably locked up the Orange Bowl bid after locking up the Coastal Division title by defeating Virginia Tech 39-30 on Friday.
The Hokies (8-4) should be in play for either the Citrus Bowl, if it opens to an ACC team, or the Belk Bowl, given the school’s proximity to Charlotte and huge appeal that Virginia Tech football has to casual fans. The Citrus Bowl spot for the ACC is contingent upon many factors, including if the ACC plays an SEC team in the Orange Bowl. This appears to be the case, as either Georgia or Alabama are the favorites to go to the Orange Bowl so far. However, if a team like Penn State from the Big Ten goes to the Orange Bowl, the Citrus Bowl opens up for an ACC team.
This leaves the Camping World Bowl and three, or four depending on whether the Citrus Bowl takes an ACC team, Tier I bowl games as possible destinations for the Demon Deacons. Despite being an independent school, Notre Dame is considered as part of the ACC pool for bowl selection purposes. The Fighting Irish finished their season 10-2 and seems the unanimous pick across many bowl projections to be the ACC “representative” on the Camping World Bowl against either Texas or Oklahoma State.
Now, this is where things get really weird. The Deacs are more than locked for a Tier I bowl destination (Belk, Sun, Music City or Pinstripe) as teams like Florida State (6-6), Miami (6-6), Boston College (6-6) and North Carolina (6-6) cannot be selected ahead of the Deacs due to the “two-win” rule that prohibits teams from being selected ahead of teams with two or more wins than the other team in their overall record. Besides that, anything else is fair game.
It’s worth remembering that the bowl selection process is not really merit-based, as bowl committees’ only concern is with the number of fans a school can bring to their games. This makes Wake Forest, the smallest Power Five school, at a disadvantaged position compared to bigger schools like North Carolina and Louisville, whose fanbase is much bigger than the Deacs’. Virginia Tech (8-4), Pittsburgh (7-5), Louisville (7-5) and Wake Forest (8-4) are all within a game from each other and could be selected in any order depending on the preference of each bowl committee.
ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach, and The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel have Wake Forest going to the Sun Bowl to face Arizona State in El Paso, Texas. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palms has the Deacs coming back to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte to face Mississippi State. However, this scenario is a bit unlikely since the Deacs played in the Belk Bowl in 2017, and Palms also has Penn State going to the Orange Bowl, which would open up the Citrus Bowl to Virginia Tech.
Bret Bloomquist reported for the El Paso Times that Sun Bowl Executive Editor Bernie Olivas showed interested in Louisville, Miami or Florida State as the preferred ACC representatives in the Sun Bowl. Wake Forest would not be an ideal selection for both the Sun Bowl committee and the school. The Sun Bowl already hinted that it would prefer a school with a bigger national profile and for Wake Forest, it would be a less than ideal trip for fans to go from the East Coast to El Paso on New Year’s Eve.
Wake Forest fans can surely expect Athletic Director John Currie to try to lobby for another bowl destination, likely the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City. Another option would be the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., yet most bowl projections have either Louisville or North Carolina as the committee pick. Both schools would make more sense than Wake Forest from a financial standpoint.
With all of that being said, bowl selection is an extremely fluid process, and everything can change by the time bowl representatives convene on Sunday. I would not be surprised if the Deacs end up in any of the four Tier I bowl games with the Sun Bowl as the likeliest destination so far. Stay tuned on Sunday afternoon to find out where the Deacs are playing this bowl season.