UNC moves up in CFP rankings but path to Orange Bowl gets tougher

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina, which moved up two spots in the College Football Playoff rankings to No. 15 on Tuesday, has a more difficult path to the Orange Bowl, thanks to Clemson’s blowout loss at Notre Dame.

The Tar Heels (8–1, 5–0 ACC) can clinch the Coastal Division title and an ACC championship game matchup on Dec. 3 in Charlotte with the Tigers if they can win at Wake Forest (6–3, 2–3) at 7:30 Saturday night (ESPN2). Carolina also clinches if Virginia Tech beats Duke and Miami defeats Georgia Tech.

Before the Irish rolled to a 35–13 win over Clemson (8–1, 6–0), which fell to No. 10 in the CFP rankings, the Tigers were on pace to make the CFP. When the Tigers were in the CFP picture, UNC likely could lose to them in the ACC title game and still end up in the Orange Bowl.

Georgia (9–0) is atop the latest CFP rankings after defeating previous No. 1 Tennessee (8–1) 27–3, with Ohio State (9–0) No. 2, Michigan (9–0) No. 3 and TCU (9–0) No. 4.

Other ACC teams in the CFP rankings are No. 16 N.C. State and No. 23 Florida State. Notre Dame is at No. 20 just as it is in the AP poll. While UNC has the same CFP ranking as AP ranking, the Wolfpack’s CFP ranking is one spot higher than its AP ranking and the Seminoles’ CFP ranking is two spots higher.

With Clemson’s CFP chances likely over, the Heels probably will need to beat the Tigers in the ACC title game to get their second Orange Bowl berth in three seasons. Otherwise, it will probably be another Florida bowl with substantially less tradition or prestige and only a corporate name.

Two projections that still have UNC in the Orange Bowl are from Brett McMurphy of the Action Network (facing 7–2 Penn State) and Bill Bender of The Sporting News (7–2 LSU). Both see Clemson ending up in the Dec. 30 Gator Bowl against Mississippi State (6–3).

To make the Friday, Dec. 30 Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla. (ESPN), Carolina will have to beat Clemson or finish the regular season unbeaten in the ACC and have the Tigers lose another regular-season game. Even in the latter scenario, Clemson’s high college football stature could trump logic.

If Carolina loses in the ACC final, the same scenario as 2015 could play out.


After losing to Clemson 45–37 in the 2015 ACC championship game, UNC played in the first of two annual bowl games in Orlando, Fla. That year, the Heels lost to Baylor 49–38 in the game with nine corporate names since it began as a Miami game in 1990 before moving to Orlando in 2006. That year, the bowl that matches the ACC and the Big 12 was the Russell Athletic Bowl.

In its third season as the Cheez-It Bowl, this year’s game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec 29 (ESPN). Steve Lassan of Athlon and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports project UNC to face Kansas State (6–3) in that game, with ESPN’s Mark Schlabach predicting Oklahoma State (6–3) as the opponent and ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura predicting the Heels will face Baylor (6–3).

Richard Johnson of Sports Illustrated projects Carolina to face Arkansas (5–4) on Jan. 2 in Tampa, Fla., (ESPN2) in a game under its third name since it started in 1986. Previously called the Outback Bowl since 1995, this season’s game is called the ReliaQuest Bowl.

College Football News sees the Heels facing Central Florida (7–2) in the 11 p.m. Dec. 17 Fenway Bowl and Bleacher Report has them facing Washington (7–2) in the 8 p.m. Dec. 28 Holiday Bowl.

CFP rankings

RankTeamRecordAP ranking
2Ohio State9–02
8Southern California8–18
14Penn State7–214
15North Carolina8–115
16N.C. State7–217
19Kansas State6–323
20Notre Dame6–320
22Central Florida7–222
23Florida State6–325

ACC standings

X-No. 13 North Carolina6091
Georgia Tech3446
Virginia 1637
Virginia Tech1628
X-No. 9 Clemson7091
No. 20 Florida State5373
N.C. State3373
Wake Forest2464
Boston College2537

X-Clinched division title
Saturday’s results
North Carolina 36, Wake Forest 34
Duke 24, Virginia Tech 7
Pittsburgh 37, Virginia 7
Miami 35, Georgia Tech 14
Clemson 31, Louisville 16
Boston College 21, N.C. State 20
Florida State 38, Syracuse 3
Saturday’s games
Louisiana at Florida State, noon, ESPN3
Virginia Tech at Liberty, noon, ESPN+
Duke at Pittsburgh, noon, ACC Network
Boston College at Notre Dame, 2:30, NBC
Miami at Clemson, 3:30, ESPN
N.C. State at Louisville, 3:30, ACC Network
Coastal Carolina at Virginia, 3:30, ESPN3
Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 5:30, ESPN2
Syracuse at Wake Forest, 8 p.m., ACC Network

(current rank)
27SaturdayW, 56–24HomeFlorida A&M1–0
3SaturdayW, 63–61BooneAppalachian State2–0
10SaturdayW, 35–28AtlantaGeorgia State 3–0
24SaturdayL, 45–32HomeNo. 19
Notre Dame
1SaturdayW, 41–10HomeVirginia Tech 4–1, 1–0 ACC
8SaturdayW, 27–24Miami
Gardens, Fla.
Miami 5–1, 2–0 ACC
15SaturdayW, 38–35DurhamDuke6–1, 3–0 ACC
29SaturdayW, 42–24HomePittsburgh7–1, 4–0 ACC
5SaturdayW, 31–28CharlottesvilleVirginia8–1, 5–0 ACC
12SaturdayW, 36–34Winston-SalemWake Forest 9–1, 6–0 ACC
19SaturdayL, 21–17HomeGeorgia Tech 9–2, 6–1 ACC
25FridayL, 30–27,
2 OTs
HomeNo. 25 N.C. State 9–3, 6–2 ACC
DecemberACC championship
3SaturdayL, 39–10CharlotteNo. 10 Clemson9–4
Holiday Bowl
28WednesdayL, 28–27San DiegoNo. 15 Oregon9–5

Photo via @UNCFootball


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