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Wake Forest Bowl Projections: Analysis and Likely Scenarios

What are the Deacs' most likely bowl destinations at this point of the season?

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Your Wake Forest Demon Deacons are 7-4 for the first time in a decade.

Let that sink in for a second. In a year where many, including myself, anticipated the results to slightly regress year-over-year due to a tougher schedule, the squad has already matched its win total for 2016 with two games to spare. And they haven't just guaranteed a 2nd consecutive winning season, they've done it in a convincing and entertaining fashion. It seems as though every single week there are new records being broken, awards being given out, and a new campaign for John Wolford to be featured in the Heisman conversation. Simply put, it truly has been a historical season for the program.

Saturday's victory over NC State wasn't just a huge rivalry W to put the Deacs in the drivers seat for the Hypothetical North Carolina State Title, but also likely placed Wake into an ACC Tier 1 Bowl come December. What is a Tier 1 Bowl? Where are Tier 1 Bowls played? And who might the Deacs be facing on a Holiday Season afternoon six weeks from now? I have all your answers below.

First and foremost, ACC teams are eligible to appear in 16 different non-CFP bowls in the 2017 postseason. Of course, that doesn't mean all 16 will feature an ACC team; far from it. Some bowls have more flexibility than others in terms of who they select and from which conferences. There are also conditional agreements where if one conference gets picked for a certain bowl (Ex: Big Ten and the Orange Bowl), the ACC will take its slot elsewhere (Citrus). All of this chaos can be seen visually in this graphic below, but here are the relevant highlights for this year's team.

ACC Bowl Selection Notes:

-Wake in 2016 was the first overall selection in the Tier 2 Bowl draft by the Military Bowl. The work the Athletic Department did to lock that bid up instead of forcing fans to go to Shreveport or Detroit should never go too long without being appreciated.

-Wake is set for a Tier 1 Bowl this year, with the options being Belk (Charlotte), Sun (El Paso), Pinstripe (NYC), Taxslayer (Jacksonville), or Music City (Nashville). The Music City Bowl contract stated it will feature an ACC team 3x from 2014-2019. They did so in 2014 and 2015, and with two years still remaining on the contract, I don't think they'll host an ACC team this year.

-There is also a chance Wake ends up in the Camping World Bowl (Orlando), which was previously known as the Russell Athletic Bowl and is essentially a level more prestigious. A few things would have to go Wake's way for that to happen, however, most notably another NC State and VA Tech loss.

Here's the lay of the ACC land as we head into the final week of the season. So far eight teams have clinched bids, three teams have been eliminated from postseason play, and another three teams are fighting for their lives. Check out the breakdown below:

Couple interesting notes here:

  • Duke are heavy dogs in Winston-Salem next week, with the line opening up at Wake -11. However, they still will have a chance to make a bowl even if they don't pull off the upset against Wake, though the odds of this happening are slim. Let me explain: If there doesn't happen to be 78 bowl eligible teams this year, the first tiebreaker for 5-7 teams immediately goes to Academic Progress Rate (APR), which Duke rates incredibly high in at 4th in the country. In 2016, Mississippi State and North Texas got off the "bowl waitlist" thanks to this rule. The year prior, UCLA, Minnesota, and San Jose State all found their way into a bowl and won their matchups. At the moment there are 70 bowl eligible teams, 19 5-win teams (Including 4 matchups featuring two 5-win programs) and a few more 4-win teams that can make a bowl. So while Duke may sneak into a bowl with a losing record, this weekend is still a must-win for the Blue Devils.
  • Georgia Tech, who at one point was two plays away from being ranked inside the Top 10, is now likely going to miss going bowling for just the second time since 1996. After getting steamrolled by Duke last week, GT will have to pull off a huge upset over #7 UGA in order to get to 6 wins. The Yellow Jackets have had some success against their in-state foes in recent years, taking 2 out of the last 3 in the rivalry. However, Georgia appears to be a different animal this year, and I just don't see them letting this one slip away with the CFP still on the line.
  • While Georgia Tech will likely be penalized for their cancelled Hurricane game, FSU has taken the opposite approach and rescheduled its cupcake game against UL Monroe to help out their cause. Add that with the fact the Noles crushed Delaware State this past weekend and will be facing a UF team that hasn't really shown up since September next Saturday and you get the disappointing truth: FSU is probably going bowling again.

What does all of this mean? Basically, I see 9 teams from the ACC getting into bowls this year: The 8 teams already qualified and FSU by winning out against weak competition. But where will Wake shake out in all of this? There seems to be a clear favorite at this point of the selection process, and the connection almost makes too much sense.

After months of Wake flirting with the possibility of a Belk Bowl appearance, the movement has really picked up steam in recent weeks. Getting to 7 wins was absolutely huge in solidifying the Deacs as a Tier 1 team this year, and most importantly, standing out from other ACC programs. A few weeks ago, News & Observer writer Joe Giglio wrote that he thought a UVA team with an identical record as Wake would get the Belk Bowl call on decision day. His most recent update is far more encouraging:

Other things playing in Wake's favor? Three other potential Tier 1 ACC teams that would be attractive to the Belk Bowl Committee, NC State, Louisville, and Virginia Tech, have been invited three years in a row. The other in-state programs who would draw well in Charlotte (Duke and UNC) won't be eligible based on their current records.

This leaves Wake and Virginia as the primary options on the table, and based on their current win expectancies in Week 13, it seems as though Wake will have a significant advantage here. Did I mention the Belk Bowl committee was in attendance Saturday night for Wake's big win against NC State? That too.

Potential SEC Opponents for the Belk Bowl are as follows: South Carolina, Missouri, Texas A&M, Miss State, and Kentucky. UK plays Louisville in basketball at the exact same time as the Belk Bowl on December 29th, making them unlikely to be picked in my opinion. A&M and Mississippi State heading to bowls closer to their fanbases makes way more sense logistically, and I think will end up being a huge factor at the end of the day.

This leaves South Carolina and Missouri as the two favorites to be on the other sideline if Wake Forest does in fact get selected to play in Charlotte. Missouri might be a slightly easier matchup for the Deacs, but a renewal of the USC-Wake matchup is just too damn appetizing to pass up. The game would be the first time the two programs have met since 1987 when USC was still an Independent. Wake's 56 total games against the Gamecocks is 6th most in program history behind only Duke, NC State, UNC, Clemson, and Maryland. It's about time we add #57 to the rivalry.

I'll leave you with a table recap of the most recent projections from people around the industry and my own guesses based on research I've done.

If Wake takes care of business Saturday, and all other ACC results go as expected, I would be truly stunned to see Wake playing elsewhere come late-December. The social media hype, the school's proximity, and the fact that Wake hasn't played in the game since the bowl's rebrand makes me believe the Deacs are heavy favorites to close the season at Bank of America stadium.

What are your top bowl projections, hopes, and expectations? Comment below to continue the discussion.