NC stands for Bowling: State prepares for historic postseason

East Carolina, at 6-4, is poised to play in its first bowl game since the 2015 Birmingham Bowl. (The Deseret News via AP)

Last season’s NCAA tournament was historic as Duke and North Carolina met in the Final Four for the first time in the event’s 83-year history.

Now the college football season promises to make more state history.

For the first time ever, all four North Carolina ACC teams – Duke, North Carolina, NC State and Wake Forest – have qualified for the bowl.

The state has fielded three of the Big Four 11 times starting in 1992. This includes seven of the last eight seasons. In an interesting trivia, NC State is the only one of the four eligible to compete in each of those 11 previous seasons. Each of the other three is responsible for the state having missed clean ground at least once.

Beyond that, however, the bowl season is shaping up to be a special one for the state. East Carolina is also eligible. App State is one win away from qualifying, and NC Central won the MEAC and sent the Eagles to their first Celebration Bowl since 2016 and a chance to play for the HBCU National Championship.

Only Charlotte is out of contention for a postseason spot, meaning North Carolina could send an unprecedented six FBS teams and seven teams total to bowl games. The state sent five teams — including either Central or NC A&T — to the Celebration Bowl from 2015-2019 and sent five FBS teams last year.

Here’s a rundown of each team’s bowl prospects.

NC center: The Eagles won the MEAC and are 8-2 at Tennessee Tech with a game to go. Central lost their previous appearance in the 2016 Celebration Bowl by a score of 10-9. The Eagles will face off in the game against the SWAC champion, who is yet to be determined. The state has been home to four Celebration Bowl champions, with A&T winning in 2015, ’17, ’18 and ’19.

UNC: The Tar Heels are in line for the top FBS Bowl spot among teams in the state. UNC clinched the Coastal Division title and could make a CFP New Year’s Six game if it beats Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Two outlets believe this will happen. Sports Illustrated and USA Today both have the tar heels to face Alabama in the Orange Bowl. A loss to Clemson will make UNC a desirable team in the next bowl class. The most popular prediction is that the Tar Heels will face Mack Brown’s former team Texas in the Cheez-It Bowl. Both CBSSports and Athlon see that as a likely scenario. The Athletic sees a matchup between Carolina and Florida in the Gator Bowl.

NC state: The Wolfpack is 7-3 with games remaining against Louisville and UNC. The most likely landing spot for the pack is the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte, according to media experts. CBSSports has State play Illinois, and Athlon is sending it there to play Maryland. The other projections include Cheez-It Bowl (vs. Baylor, Sports Illustrated), Gasparilla Bowl (vs. Tulane, The Athletic), and Gator Bowl (Florida, USA Today).

guard forest: The Demon Deacons were in the top 10 in October, but a three-game losing streak has dropped Wake down the bowl pecking order. Most predictions have the Deacs traveling for their bowl game: To face Utah in the Holiday (CBSSports) or the Sun (The Athletic) or Oregon State or UCLA in the Sun (USA Today or Athlon). The only game scheduled for Wake in the Eastern time zone is the Military Bowl vs. Cincinnati (Sports Illustrated).

Duke: The Blue Devils are the state’s surprise team, with a three-game winning streak that led them to a 7-3 in coach Mike Elko’s freshman year. Two predictions are that Duke will play in Duke’s Mayo Bowl (unrelated) – against Maryland (The Athletic) or Wisconsin (USA Today). Other landing spots include Pinstripe (vs. Minnesota, CBSSports), Birmingham (vs. Tulane, Sports Illustrated) or Gasparilla (vs. Memphis, Athlon).

East Carolina: The Pirates’ first bowl appearance in seven years was scuttled last season when the game was canceled due to COVID. Now ECU is 6-4 and ready to end its drought. The military is the best bet, with The Athletic and Athlon both sending the Pirates there to face off against Louisville. Other possibilities include Birmingham (vs. Marshall, CBSSports), Armed Forces (vs. UConn, Sports Illustrated) and Gasparilla (vs. Miami, USA Today).

App Status: The Mountaineers have lost twice in a row and have two remaining chances, at home to ODU and at Georgia Southern, to win their sixth game and extend the state’s longest current bowl streak to eight straight seasons. That would also set a state record — App currently ties with NC State (1988 to 1994) and UNC (1992 to 1998) on seven points. Not only would App win six, but he would also have to find a spot in an ever-decreasing number of bowl spots. CBSSports and Sports Illustrated both have an outside looking inside app. Both Athletic and Athlon send the Mountaineers to the LendingTree Bowl against Wyoming and Ball State, respectively, while USA Today App plays Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl.