Passed over by the Gator Bowl, officials from Maryland and Virginia yesterday began lobbying for the ACC's slot in the Peach Bowl.
No. 21 North Carolina State (10-3, 5-3), which has completed its regular season and can finish no better than a tie for third in the conference, yesterday was invited to the Gator Bowl, which has the first pick of ACC teams not invited to the Bowl Championship Series.
That leaves Maryland (9-3, 5-2) and Virginia (8-4, 6-2), who complete their regular seasons on Saturday, politicking for a spot in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, which has the next pick of ACC teams, over the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, which has the following pick of ACC teams. Officials from both schools were upset that the Gator Bowl exercised its option to pick any team that finishes within at least one game of the second-place team in the conference standings.
Virginia Tech, meantime, seems likely to play in the inaugural Continental Tire Bowl on Dec. 28 in Charlotte against Clemson or Georgia Tech. By beating top-ranked Miami on Dec. 7, though, the Hokies might move up to the Insight Bowl or Gator Bowl.
As for the Peach Bowl, Maryland officials believe the only way the Terrapins do not play in the Dec. 31 game is if they lose to Wake Forest and Virginia beats Virginia Tech. Peach Bowl President Gary Stokan is scheduled to attend Saturday's game at Byrd Stadium. A Terps loss could also send them to the Continental Tire Bowl, although that scenario would be a long shot.
Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage, already disappointed that the Cavaliers were not selected by the Gator Bowl, disagreed, pointing to his team's 48-13 victory over Maryland this past weekend and its tough nonconference schedule as reasons Virginia should be selected by the Peach.
"It's not that we snuck out a win in the final seconds on a field goal," Littlepage said. "We had an absolutely convincing victory over the University of Maryland in the next-to-last game of the season."
The Tangerine Bowl, which matches an ACC team against the fifth pick from the Southeastern Conference, will be played on Dec. 23, a date that is closer to semester exams and not within the height of the bowl season.
"It's unfortunate that our team's performance on the field was not enough to solidify our selection for the Gator Bowl," Littlepage said. "We're 2-0 against [Maryland and North Carolina State] and I think we played a higher quality nonconference schedule.
"There is no question in my mind we should be the choice. I think there is more than enough to justify it. . . . To me, [if Virginia beats Virginia Tech and is not invited to the Peach Bowl] that would say the whole bowl selection process is way out of whack, that the performance on the field and quality nonconference schedule are not important. . . . We've done what was asked of us by the ACC [in terms on nonconference scheduling]. If the Peach Bowl doesn't come to us . . . that would send a message."
Four of Virginia's five nonconference opponents were ranked at one time this season, compared with two for Maryland and one for North Carolina State, which played two Division I-AA opponents and Navy, which has one victory.
Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen also was against the idea that a potential fourth-place team could take the conference's second bowl placement.
"I realize it is the bowl's privilege to do that," Friedgen said. "But I don't have to agree with that."
Asked if he informed Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett of his displeasure, Friedgen responded: "Yeah. You know me."
Catlett said that his bowl's selection committee was swayed mostly by North Carolina State's 17-7 victory over Florida State last Saturday. Although the Wolfpack (10-3) had lost its previous three games and had played one of the nation's weakest nonconference schedules, the committee felt that North Carolina State was its choice.
"When you get down to the end," Catlett said, "you're looking for that spark."
ACC Commissioner John Swofford had asked the bowls affiliated with the conference to hold off making selections until after this weekend. Catlett said that once it became clear that his selection committee wanted to invite North Carolina State regardless of this weekend's outcomes, there was no need to wait. The Wolfpack likely will play the winner of Saturday's game between West Virginia and Pittsburgh. If West Virginia wins and plays North Carolina State, the game will match two teams that lost to Maryland this season.
"So maybe we're too good to go to the Gator Bowl," Friedgen said.