The EagleBank Bowl will pit an ACC team against Navy in the Dec. 20 game at RFK Stadium.
But exactly which ACC team hasn’t been determined, and a series of unusual twists make it difficult to envision an obvious conclusion just five days before bowl selections are finalized.
Three logical choices for the first-year game - Maryland, N.C. State and Wake Forest - all face roadblocks as the ACC sorts out the picture for its 10 bowl-eligible teams.
“We’ve got to just wait for the ACC to see what happens,” said EagleBank Bowl executive director Steve Beck, whose event holds the ninth selection from the conference. “It’s really outside of my control.”
Maryland is an ideal team to snag for an inaugural game, but the Terrapins (7-5) do not finish their fall semester final exams until the day of the bowl. Another alluring team is N.C. State (6-6), which won its last four games to earn a chance to play its first postseason game since 2005. Coach Tom O’Brien is a Naval Academy graduate, the school is less than five hours away and the Wolfpack feature first-team All-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson.
However, NCAA rules could preclude the Wolfpack from playing Navy (7-4). According to NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168, “In the case of a conference contractual affiliation, all conference teams with winning records must be placed in one of the contracted bowl games before any institution with a record of six wins and six losses may be placed in a contracted bowl game.”
Since N.C. State is the only six-win team among the ACC’s bowl-eligible schools, it will be relegated to seeking an at-large bowl berth unless the NCAA makes an exception. With Maryland and N.C. State unavailable, Wake Forest (7-5) probably will be the remaining option. Yet the Demon Deacons lost 24-17 to Navy on Sept. 27, and the Midshipmen have an agreement with the EagleBank Bowl to avoid any possible rematches.
Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said the Mids encountered a similar situation last year when they played in the Poinsettia Bowl, which had a Mountain West tie-in. Air Force was a possible opponent, but Navy already played the Falcons in the regular season and ultimately faced Utah in San Diego.
“We’ve already played them once; they already played us,” Gladchuk said. “You go to bowls to play someone different. That’s what the bowls are about - a new opponent, new fan bases, new clientele. It’s something that’s a little more of a novelty.”
The uncertainty with the EagleBank Bowl reflects a hodgepodge throughout the ACC. Music City Bowl executive director Scott Ramsey called the conference’s bowl picture “as clear as mud.”
The answers probably won’t develop until the weekend. Michael Kelly, the ACC’s associate commissioner, said in an e-mail that the conference has not had the chance to discuss possible selections with its bowls and that the league has always sought to avoid rematches in the past.
“Most, if not all of these selections will take place on Sunday after the conclusion of the championship game and after all of the bowl partners have had their team selection committee meetings, so it is certainly a work in progress,” Kelly wrote.
As a result, the EagleBank Bowl and Navy probably will be forced to wait until Sunday to find an answer. Instead of fretting, Gladchuk will wait in the hopes Navy will get to face a new opponent when it plays in its sixth straight bowl game.
“We have exams that week, too, but we’re going to show up,” Gladchuk said. “Everybody has an excuse why they can’t do this or can’t do that. We’re finding a way to accommodate the bowl’s situation.”