Imagine a game of musical chairs: Lilting music, bodies jostling for position. And when the music stops, someone’s left without a seat.
Now imagine that the bodies belong to 300-pound linemen, one each from the eight bowl-eligible ACC teams (Boston College, No. 7 Clemson, Duke, No. 2 FSU, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami and Virginia Tech) and the three near-bowl-eligible teams (North Carolina, Pitt and Syracuse are all 5-5 with two games remaining).
When the music stops for the ACC, could one of those teams be left without a postseason seat?
The ACC has eight guaranteed bowl slots and one conditional slot, so if more than nine ACC teams are bowl eligible those at or near the bottom aren’t guaranteed a berth.
“We’re bowl eligible but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything because there are a lot of other teams bowl eligible in our conference and we’re gonna have to secure a couple more wins in order to make our goal of getting to a bowl game a reality,” record-setting running back Andre Williams said Monday. “We know that the Music City Bowl is on the table. That’d be a great bowl game to go to, down in Nashville. Once you reach your goals, you kinda have to reassess what there is left on the table for you to go get.”
That’s the message first-year BC coach Steve Addazio has relayed to his charges. They’ve achieved their two goals from preseason, winning their opener against Villanova and becoming bowl eligible after beating NC State to get to six wins, but that doesn’t mean they can relax.
“Human nature is exactly that, to decelerate and take your foot off the pedal and start feeling good about yourself [when you’ve achieved a goal],” Addazio said. “What major college programs do is they strive for conference championships, and they strive for great bowl games and they strive for as many wins as they can get. That’s where we want to head in our program.”
That means continuing to push, even after achieving your goals. You can always set new ones.
“I believe in setting realistic, attainable goals,” Addazio said. “It’s not to say that you’re not going to [try to] win every game now -- that’s your ultimate goal -- but at the stage of where we were at in our program, at the time, that was the right set of goals to have. Now we just need to reformat. That’s a good problem to have.
“We’re in uncharted waters for this group of players. And that’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge and it’s an exciting challenge. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to take this on right now and it’ll serve us well. ... One game at a time, just focus on Saturday because we’ll have all we can handle down at Maryland.”
Though it had lost three in a row and four of five prior to this past weekend, Maryland went to Blacksburg, Va., and beat Virginia Tech in overtime on a C.J. Brown touchdown run. The Terps have just as much incentive as the Eagles to finish strong -- maybe even more, considering they’re leaving the ACC for the Big Ten next season and want to finish strong so they can start strong in the new conference.
Adding fuel to the fire, it’ll be senior day for Maryland on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET). Eagles fans know the kind of boost playing a final game at home can give a team, the field-storming experience after the win over NC State still fresh in their minds.
As things stand, ESPN.com’s David M. Hale predicts the Eagles to land in the Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 27. Brad Edwards agrees with Hale, while Mark Schlabach thinks BC will land in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 31.
But the Eagles aren’t content with how things stand now. There’s more work to be done.
“First off we’ve gotta get [win No. 7] to lock up at least a bowl spot,” fifth-year senior co-captain Ian White said. “You never know with six wins and how many teams in our conference are fighting for bowl spots. We need to at least get one but we’d like to get two.”
The more wins, the less chance they’re left without a seat when the music stops for good.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.