By Will Vandervort / Photo by Kevin Vandervort.
The question isn’t where Clemson’s football team will be spending the Holiday Season, but rather when it will be playing.
It appears, unless Georgia Tech just totally falls on its face in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State on Saturday, the Tigers are almost a certainty to play in Orlando, Fla., during the Holiday Season. Clemson, who is ranked No. 18 in the latest College Football Playoff Poll, more than likely will be invited to play either in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 or the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1.
The Citrus Bowl, which currently is tied into picking teams from the SEC and the Big 10, must select an ACC team if a Big 10 team is selected to play in the Orange Bowl. With Michigan State being ranked No. 8 in the poll, the Spartans would be selected to play Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31 if the polls don’t change significantly. That will allow the Citrus Bowl to move to the ACC, where it can pick any bowl-eligible team left from the conference’s pool.
If this was to happen, Clemson will then be a strong candidate to play in the Citrus Bowl against an SEC opponent. The Tigers, along with No. 21 Louisville, appear to be the top two candidates to get this invite from the ACC. Duke is also a candidate.
“If we move on from that Big 10 selection then we have to take a team from the ACC,” said Greg Creese, Director of Communications for Florida Citrus Sports.
Like most bowl games, Florida Citrus Sports has a committee of people that go and scout potential teams for both of their bowl games. They have seen Clemson several times and they like what the Tigers bring to the table from a fan standpoint and from an overall excitement level.
Last week, that committee got together and broke down different scenarios and potential matchups they can choose from after the final College Football Poll comes out on Sunday.
“We have to see how things play out on Saturday and then w will be able to basically make our decisions,” Creese said.
Clemson has a lot of things going in its favor, especially considering it has not traveled to play in one of the Orlando Bowl games since its victory over Colorado in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, which is now known as the Russell Athletic Bowl.
It also helps that there is a lot of excitement surrounding the Clemson team following last week’s win over rival South Carolina. The Tigers closed the year by winning eight of their last nine games.
“It’s all about have they played here in recent years? How well do their fans travel? How excited are they about this year’s team? And stuff to that degree,” Creese said. “Clemson has not been here in a while and traditionally, they travel well.”
So what can prevent Clemson from being selected in the Citrus Bowl?
Creese says the determining factors are the matchups more than anything else. The SEC has several teams that are in the running for the Citrus Bowl selection. Those teams are Georgia, Missouri, Ole Miss and Auburn.
Missouri of course is playing in the SEC Championship game on Saturday against top-ranked Alabama and could land in the New Year’s Six Bowls with a win. A loss could drop those Tigers to the Citrus Bowl. As for Ole Miss, who is ranked No. 12, they could still possibly land in one of the New Year’s Six Bowls.
Georgia is in the running for the Outback Bowl and the Citrus Bowl. The likely destination for the Bulldogs is the Outback Bowl, but if Alabama were to beat Missouri by a substantial margin in the SEC Championship Game, then Georgia could jump the Tigers in the pecking order. Keep in mind the Bulldogs manhandled Missouri in Columbia earlier this season.
If that last scenario plays out and Georgia lands in Orlando on New Year’s Day, then it is unlikely the Citrus Bowl will select Clemson and set up a rematch with the Bulldogs.
The Bowl will obviously love a Clemson vs. Auburn game, but the SEC Tigers are a longshot to land in the Citrus Bowl. They will need two SEC teams ahead of them to play in the New Year’s Six Bowl and that could happen. Right now USA Today has Ole Miss projected to play Ohio State in the Peach Bowl, while Mississippi State is in the Cotton Bowl vs. Baylor.
As for the Russell Athletic Bowl, a source told The Clemson Insider that if the Tigers don’t go to the Citrus Bowl then the Russell Athletic Bowl will take them. The likely scenario is wherever Clemson goes Louisville will go to the other bowl game.