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Wake Forest’s Orange Bowl Primer

Bart takes a look at Wake Forest’s Orange Bowl chances at this point of the season

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl - Alabama v Oklahoma Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Greetings Wake fans. I come bringing late October tidings of comfort and joy in the form of an in-depth look at the Orange Bowl selection process and Wake Forest’s chances of making this bowl game for only the second time in school history.

As I am sure you know, our Deacs are bowl eligible and off to a 6-1 start to the 2019 season. With Wake’s sixth win of the season comes the inevitable discussion of where the squad might end up come December and January. So let’s take a preliminary look at how the ACC’s bowl selection process works before we jump into an analysis of what this means specifically for Wake Forest. Fortunately the ACC has put together a pretty easy-to-understand graphic to help the average sports fan digest what ultimately can be a complicated process overall.

If you want to skip ahead to the final section I summarize all the information below in a couple paragraphs.

1. The Orange Bowl Selection Process

As you can see, the ACC has two primary routes for bowl selection: 1) where the ACC sends a team to the College Football Playoffs and 2) where the ACC does not send a team to the College Football Playoffs. While both of these scenarios are still possible at this point of the season, we will focus predominantly on the former option in this article.

Why? It’s simple, Clemson is the defending national champion, ranked in the top five, and currently undefeated. Further, based upon the SP+ ratings (a predictive statistical analysis of how teams are likely to perform moving forward) Clemson has an excellent chance of going undefeated in which case the Tigers will almost certainly end up in the playoff.

A quick point to make here is that Clemson going to the playoffs is good for Wake Forest and other teams in the ACC looking to go to a good bowl. As the chart shows, if an ACC team goes to the CFP then this opens up another bid in a New Year’s Six bowl for the conference. In the ACC’s case, this happens to be the Orange Bowl who is contractually obligated to select an ACC team to play against a Big 10/SEC/Notre Dame/Independent team. It bears repeating that the Orange Bowl is contractually obligated to take an ACC team and Notre Dame cannot usurp the rest of the ACC in this process.

So you might be asking yourself, how does the Orange Bowl select the team in the event that the ACC Champion goes to the CFP? Great question and one that has an easy answer: the Orange Bowl must select the ACC team who finishes the highest in the final CFP rankings*. This eliminates a couple of options the Orange Bowl might otherwise have had such as selecting the loser of the ACCCG or simply picking a team in accordance with the usual bowl selection process (based on fan base size, ticket sales, media attention, overall fan interest, etc.). This too is good for Wake Forest as it is no secret that Wake’s relatively small fan base does not always make the Deacs a premium selection for bowl purposes.

*One caveat here which I have not been able to clarify from an official source is what happens in the event that the ACC does not have a second team ranked in the final CFP rankings. This ordinarily would have no legitimate shot at happening for a P5 conference but based on the parity this year in the ACC sans Clemson, I believe this has a real shot of occurring. For this article I’m proceeding on the assumption (substantiated by clarification from two separate sources who have a strong history of good inside knowledge) that the CFP would continue to rank teams until they hit a second ACC team who would then get the OB bid. If I receive concrete information that this is correct or incorrect I will supplement this article.

2. Wake Forest’s Current Position

With the Orange Bowl selection logistics covered above, let’s now move on to how this process plays out for the current 2019 season. If you follow me on Twitter (@FanaticDeac) you may have noticed that I have posted some updated statistics each week about how Wake Forest, as well as other teams vying for the second place position in the ACC, stack up in comparison to one another looking forward to the end of the season.

Currently, the relevant ACC standings based solely on overall record are as follows:

  1. Clemson (8-0) - ranked 4th in the nation
  2. Wake Forest (6-1) - ranked 23rd in the nation
  3. Virginia Tech (5-2)
  4. Louisville (5-3)
  5. Virginia (5-3)
  6. Pittsburgh (5-3)

For instant purposes, I have stopped the rankings at six positions but will include a little blurb on remaining teams at the end of this article. I did this because - after Clemson at 8-0 - the teams in positions 2 through 6 are the teams jockeying for the coveted second spot to advance to the Orange Bowl if Clemson wins out. I made this determination on the basis that a team with 4 losses is not likely to be ranked at the end of the season by the CFP and therefore would not be the second-highest ranked team in the ACC. These teams above are the ones most likely to reach 9 wins (and I excluded N.C. State who only has 3 losses as they still play Clemson and a very slim shot at reaching 9 wins).

As you can see Wake holds a one game lead over third place and a 1.5 game lead over teams 3 through 6. Additionally, Wake has the benefit of already having an AP and Coaches Poll rank which - while not the same polling process as the CFP - act as a reasonable proxy for what the committee will do when the rankings begin coming out next week.

One final note is that for Clemson to make the playoff, they almost certainly need to win out which includes a victory in the ACCCG against a team from the Coastal. This means that the team that wins the Coastal division will also end their season with an additional loss, adding not only to their loss column but also to their potential placement in the CFP rankings as they are guaranteed to have a loss to end their season. This also benefits Wake as well as Louisville (and any other Atlantic team looking for this spot).

3. A Statistical Look at the Jockeying Teams

Reddit user ExternalTangents has provided the CFB world with a valuable tool by taking the SP+ projections discussed above and plugging them into a formula to produce individual win probabilities for each team the rest of the season. By running these for each team, we get a win total probability distribution for each team in the country which is great for determining how teams may finish the year. This week’s version of the distribution for the ACC is too big to post as an image but can be found here:

Proceeding on the premise that a team will likely need to reach nine wins to be ranked in the CFP polls, we can begin by looking at the odds that each of the jockeying teams above reach this coveted nine win mark (in decreasing likelihood)

Wake Forest has a 48.8% chance of 9, 10, or 11 wins (8.41 expected wins)

Virginia has a 24% chance of 9 wins (7.86 expected wins)

Pittsburgh has a 12.2% chance of 9 wins (7.38 expected wins)

Virginia Tech has a 10% chance of 9 or 10 wins (7.17 expected wins)

Louisville has a 2.8% chance of 9 wins (6.71 expected wins)

These odds make sense for a couple reasons: 1) Wake already has six wins and still has five games remaining while Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Louisville have only four games remaining and 2) Wake Forest does not have any remaining games against any of these teams (but does have a game remaining against Clemson).

As UVA, Pitt, and Louisville have already played eight games, the above numbers provide the likelihood that these teams win each of their remaining games. I do not find that particularly likely and both Pittsburgh and Virginia still have a game left against Virginia Tech.

A deeper look at these team’s respective schedules also gives hope for Wake fans. Virginia Tech plays Notre Dame this week and has the aforementioned games against fellow contenders Pittsburgh and Virginia. Louisville has looked very good the last few weeks but has three road games left out of their last four games and is currently projected as an underdog in all three of these: Miami, N.C. State, and Kentucky. Pitt has arguably the easiest remaining schedule of the four teams but does not have greater than a 66% chance to win any of these four games.

Simplified, there is no reason to believe that this season’s version of Coastal Chaos will not continue as there is a wild amount of parity in the middle of the ACC (but particularly the Coastal division).

So the too long didn’t read version here is that Wake Forest, who has a 48.8% chance of winning 9 or more games in addition to a 14.5% chance to reach double digit wins (essentially locking up the Orange Bowl bid) is in excellent position relative to their peers in their quest to secure second place in the ACC.

4. Remaining Odds and Ends

While I provided the teams that I believe have the best shot at reaching the second place ACC spot, it is theoretically likely that a team outside the top six could get hot and finish in second - particularly in light of the conference’s parity. Let’s take a look at these remaining teams and their chances of reaching at least eight wins (with an outside shot of finishing in second):

Miami: 24.9%

North Carolina: 10%

N.C. State: 9.4%

Florida State: 3.1%

Duke: 2.1%

Boston College: 1.2%

Sorry Georgia Tech and Syracuse, you cannot reach eight wins. Better luck next season.

5. Summary

Based on the current standings and the remaining schedules for every ACC team, Wake has a good to great chance of finishing in second in the ACC and going to the Orange Bowl if Clemson makes the playoffs. I’d put Clemson’s chances at making the CFP between 80 and 90%.

At present I would put Orange Bowl chances for ACC teams as follows:

Wake Forest - 45% (includes scenarios where Wake beats Clemson and wins the ACCCG)

Virginia - 27%

Clemson - 15% (scenarios where they do not make the CFP)

Pittsburgh/Virginia Tech - 4.5%

Louisville - 3%

Field - 1%

If Wake Forest goes 3-2 down the stretch to finish 9-3, I believe they will go to the Orange Bowl where Clemson makes the Playoff. Wake has a plurality but not majority chance to advance right now. A win over State likely puts Wake at a majority shot to reach the Orange Bowl in my opinion.

If you have any questions please feel free to let me know. This relies heavily on SP+ projections, but if you look at most other predictive models (rather than models looking at resumes with a backwards looking approach rather than a forward looking approach) they provide similar numbers.

I will update this weekly until the end of the season. As always, go Deacs.