In a normal year, executive directors of bowl games usually have a narrow list of possibilities for teams they could invite to town for the holidays.
This isn’t a typical season, least of all for any postseason game tied in with the ACC.
“I have a big old headache right now,” said Kevin McDonald, the executive director of the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho. “I don’t have any idea who is coming from either side.”
He isn’t alone.
The annual late autumn pastime reading of postseason tea leaves is an especially difficult sport this year. The ACC could produce as many as 11 bowl-eligible teams and as few as eight, which makes it almost a frivolous venture to guess at schools’ possible landing spots until Saturday’s games are complete.
That includes Maryland (7-4, 4-3 ACC), which could be an option for the Humanitarian Bowl, the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tenn., the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. - and possibly more.
Unquestionably, a victory in Saturday’s regular-season finale at No. 20 Boston College (8-3, 4-3) would enhance the Terrapins’ profile. It would give Maryland five victories over ranked teams and ensure the Terps don’t stumble to the end of the season with three losses in four games.
“I think it certainly helps,” said Steve Hogan, the executive director of Florida Citrus Sports, whose Champs Sports Bowl invited Maryland in 2006. “They’d be in our mix, but you like to finish on an upswing and getting eight wins. You’re trying to put the best record out there. [A loss] doesn’t knock them out, but [a win] would definitely help them.”
The Terps aren’t the only school in the conference with some drama this week. Four teams - Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech - can still play for the ACC championship. Whichever one wins the title and lands in the Orange Bowl will help determine how the remaining dominos fall.
At the other end of the postseason spectrum is the Dec. 20 EagleBank Bowl, a first-year game to be played at RFK Stadium. The EagleBank Bowl already has Navy (7-4) locked in as one of its teams and also receives the No. 9 selection from the ACC.
The conference, however, still needs a ninth bowl-eligible team. Clemson (against South Carolina), N.C. State (playing host to Miami) and Virginia (at Virginia Tech) will all play at noon Saturday in an attempt to earn a postseason opportunity.
Then there’s the middle group, teams already out of the conference race that still achieved eligibility earlier in the season. Unsurprisingly, those teams have a decent chance at landing among the middle of the conference’s bowl selections.
One possibility for Maryland is the Music City Bowl. Of the conference’s top seven bowl tie-ins, the Music City and Meineke Car Care bowls are the only games the Terps have not played in this decade.
“We have a lot of interest in Maryland, and we have since we joined with the ACC,” said Scott Ramsey, the Music City Bowl’s executive director. “They have a great reputation of bringing fans. We’re going to have to wait and see how the next week or two [plays out]. Trying to project the guys ahead of me has been a lot more difficult this year.”
Economic concerns matter as well. Ramsey acknowledged fans are likely to shorten stays to save money, placing a premium on finding an ACC team within driving distance. However, the presence of about a half-dozen direct flights each day on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Nashville is a factor working in Maryland’s favor.