Here's the final ACC bowl lineup:
Music City: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. LSU Tigers
Belk: Louisville Cardinals vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Pinstripe: Boston College Eagles vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
Sun: Duke Blue Devils vs. Arizona State Sun Devils
Military: Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
Independence: Miami-Florida Hurricanes vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
Quick Lane: North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
BITCOIN: N.C. State Wolfpack vs. UCF Knights
The selection committee threw the ACC for a serious loop when Mississippi State, which, without playing a game, jumped from No. 10 to No. 7 and nabbed the highest-ranked, non-champ spot in the Orange Bowl from Michigan State. The Spartans remained at the No. 8 spot in the final rankings.
The move looked haphazard to the untrained eye, but make no mistake about it—this was done very deliberately by the committee to ensure that the Big Ten would have enough bowl spots for the conference's 10 bowl-eligible teams. Had Michigan State held onto the highest ranked non-champion spot from the Big Ten, SEC, or Notre Dame, that would have opened up a slot in the Citrus Bowl for the ACC. Without a Citrus Bowl bid, the Big Ten would have had just nine slots for 10 teams.
It's no secret that the selection committee is heavy on Big Ten ties with Tom Osborne and Barry Alvarez likely commanding the room. Osborne is the former AD at Nebraska while Alvarez is the current AD at Wisconsin. The Osborne/Alvarez duo also has some sympathetic ears on the committee in former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who likely has no love lost for the conference that pilfered his conference more than once, and West Virginia AD Oliver Luck, whose Mountaineers were passed over for membership on more than one occasion by the ACC. Meanwhile, the ACC only has one real voice on the 12-man selection committee: Clemson AD Dan Radakovich.
The committee knew exactly what it was doing in elevating Mississippi State above Michigan State in the final rankings, all without having played a game, and having lost its last game by two touchdowns to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Earlier in the week, Big Ten athletic directors, of which Alvarez is one, were informed of this very scenario: that one of its bowl-eligible teams could be left out of the postseason altogether. So the selection committee can't really plead ignorance on the ramifications of ranking Mississippi State ahead of Michigan State, since Alvarez, for one, knew exactly what impact the move would have on the Big Ten's bowl lineup.
By sending Mississippi State to the Orange, Michigan State was free to scoop up another New Year's Six at-large spot (Peach Bowl), while the Big Ten retained its Citrus Bowl slot, which would go to Minnesota. All 10 Big Ten bowl teams found homes, while the ACC had to scramble to find a replacement slot for its 12th bowl-eligible team.
In an even more nefarious twist, three of the four schools that were eligible for the ACC's "Tier II" bowl slots—Miami, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech—were former Big East members (Hi, Tranghese!). So one of those three would have to scramble to find a bowl slot at all (in hindsight, North Carolina probably wasn't getting left out). That the conference was able to find a bowl slot at all for that 12th team on Sunday—Pittsburgh would land in the Armed Forces Bowl vs. Houston—was a minor miracle.
Meanwhile, the narrative out of the Big Ten camp on Sunday night was strong: "Record-tying 10 Big Ten teams make 2014-15 bowl games." Not "nine and one had to stay home because we ran out of contractual bowl slots," though the odd team out would have probably found a slot in the Armed Forces Bowl like Pitt. A "record-tying" 10.
The biggest losers in the ACC bowl reshuffle were Louisville, N.C. State and Pittsburgh. Louisville went from a presumed trip to Orlando (RAB? Citrus?) to face a Big 12 or SEC opponent to the decidedly less sexy trip to Charlotte and the Belk Bowl (though against a solid Georgia team). N.C. State similarly tumbled from the "Tier I" set of bowls all the way to the conference's flex spot in the BITCOIN Bowl vs. UCF, somehow bypassing three bowls in the conference's "Tier II" in the process. Finally, poor Pitt was relegated to the Armed Forces Bowl vs. Houston—the second straight year the Panthers land in a replacement bowl slot against a team playing without their head coach.
Basically, BC's seventh regular season win over Syracuse carried enormous bowl selection implications and was likely the difference between getting what was seen as many as being the program's first choice—a Pinstripe Bowl berth opposite Penn State—and having to sweat it out on the proverbial ACC bowl lineup bubble as Pitt did.
If the selection committee has demonstrated that it can manipulate the ACC's bowl lineup in year 1 of the College Football Playoff, I'm not sure how beneficial tying the Orange Bowl to yet another arbitrary human poll (combined with the Citrus Bowl-ACC bowl slot clause) really is going to be for the conference. It would seem to me that the Orange Bowl would be better off pairing the ACC with any old selection committee at-large (not restricting to the highest-ranked, non-champ from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame) and the ACC saying to hell with the Citrus Bowl and finding another bowl slot (the conference already sends its #2 selection in most years to Orlando anyway).
It worked out in the end for BC, but extremely shady, and speaks to the inherent biases that determining a four-team playoff field with no auto-qualifiers by committee, and tying a human poll top 25 to the ACC's bowl selection order, can have on the process.