Sun Bowl Executive Director Bernie Olivas had to look it up in the record book to be sure.
“1947,” he said Monday, referencing a first and last in Virginia Tech football history. The 1947 Sun Bowl pitting the Hokies against Cincinnati was the first-ever bowl appearance for both schools, and the Bearcats won a snow-filled affair, 18-6. It’s the last time Virginia Tech played in the postseason game in El Paso.
But that distinction could change this month, Olivas said in a telephone interview, acknowledging the Hokies are one of three ACC teams the Sun Bowl is considering this year.
“A lot of scenarios point to Virginia Tech towards us and we would be extremely happy with that,” Olivas said.
The Sun Bowl, which is Dec. 31 at 2 p.m., has contracts with the ACC and Pacific-12 and picks fourth during each conference’s bowl selection process. Olivas said no matter what happens in Saturday’s conference title games, he figures that his bowl will likely be choosing between Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech from the ACC and UCLA, Arizona State and Stanford from the Pac-12.
But Olivas noted Monday he spoke with a Pac-12 associate commissioner and the consensus is that “we’re probably not gonna know till Sunday night” because there are several possibilities at play.
A lot depends on whether Clemson earns an at-large berth to a Bowl Championship Series game. The Tigers are No. 13 in the latest BCS rankings after losing to South Carolina, 31-17, on Saturday. Only the top 14 teams in the BCS rankings are eligible for an at-large bid.
But given the ACC’s longstanding ties with the Orange Bowl, Clemson would be a prime target to head to South Florida, assuming league champion Florida State beats Duke on Saturday in the ACC title game and earns a bid to the BCS championship game. If that’s the case, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which is already sold out, would choose between Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech.
The Russell Athletic Bowl, in which the Hokies played last year, has the No. 3 choice among ACC teams.
“We’re still at the mercy of the BCS and Clemson, and I think that changes a lot of things, whether they go to the BCS and there’s room for them, and then what the Chick-fil-A does,” Olivas said. “I think Virginia Tech points to us in a lot of different ways, but you never know, Miami could be there as well. I just think Duke’s gonna go someplace before us. I think they’re gonna be picked ahead of us.”
The only scenario that could throw Virginia Tech’s situation into further flux would be if Clemson falls out of the BCS top 14 or if Florida State is the only ACC team to earn a BCS bowl bid. By league rule, the Chick-fil-A Bowl would have to select either Clemson or Duke because a team cannot be bypassed in favor of another with two fewer conference victories.
Because Clemson went to Atlanta last season, the Chick-fil-A Bowl may be more apt to select Duke and the Russell Athletic Bowl would have to host the Tigers based on the above rule. That would leave the Sun Bowl picking between Miami and Virginia Tech.
The Belk Bowl in Charlotte has the No. 5 selection of ACC teams and the Music City Bowl in Nashville picks No. 6.
Should the Blue Devils somehow pull off an upset against the Seminoles in Saturday’s ACC championship game — Florida State is a four-touchdown favorite — Virginia Tech could still end up in El Paso because the Seminoles would presumably earn an at-large BCS bid.
On the Pac-12 side, the Sun Bowl’s selection depends on Saturday’s league championship game between Stanford and Arizona State. The winner will play in the Rose Bowl. The Alamo Bowl and Holiday Bowl, both of which are eyeing Oregon, then pick before the Sun Bowl.
“Any team that’s available in the Pac-12 right now against any team that’s available to us from the ACC right now, we’re extremely happy,” Olivas said. “I don’t think we can go wrong with any matchup that we get this year. We’re in a situation that we can’t lose and that makes it a ton of fun.