When Virginia stepped onto the field Saturday, they were playing for the ACC Championship and a bid to the Orange Bowl. After losing 62-17 to Clemson, the Cavaliers will now most likely have to settle for...a bid to the Orange Bowl.
Virginia gave everything they had on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game, but it was not enough as the Clemson Tigers rolled to earn a fifth straight conference title and its 28th straight win. Trevor Lawrence diced up UVA's secondary to the tune of 302 yards and four touchdowns while Travis Etienne dominated on the ground with 114 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. Bryce Perkins, meanwhile, did manage 324 total yards and two passing touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions and was largely bottled up by a stifling Clemson defense despite what the numbers may indicate.
The result was not unexpected, nor was the margin of victory (Clemson was favored by 28 heading into the game). While a blowout loss to a team flirting with a dynasty may seem like a disappointing reward for Virginia's first nine-win regular season since 2007 and winning the Coastal Division for the first time ever, there is a silver lining. Even with the loss, the Cavaliers are still almost certainly locked into an Orange Bowl bid.
As the ACC champ, Clemson is guaranteed the league's Orange Bowl bid unless they are invited to the College Football Playoff which they will be. The Tigers entered the week ranked No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings and at 13-0 will make a fifth straight appearance in the playoff.
So what happens to the league's Orange Bowl bid?
When the champion is invited to the playoff, the bowl bid then must be extended to the next highest-ranked team in the conference.
Heading into championship week, Virginia was the only other ranked team in the ACC besides Clemson. Saturdays' loss will likely bump them from the top 25, but it would be shocking if they were to fall so far as to warrant a discussion of whether to invite 8-4 Wake Forest or 8-4 Virginia Tech (who the Cavaliers just beat) over 9-4 UVA.
The short season and high stakes of college football conditions us to think that every game matters. While certainly winning a conference championship would not have been meaningless for UVA's football program, the result will ultimately have little effect on Virginia's final destination this season.
We will know soon enough. The bowl selections will be made on Sunday. The College Football Playoff teams are set to be unveiled at 12:15 p.m. and the New Year's Six bowl game pairings are scheduled to be revealed at 3 p.m.
You can pencil Dec. 30 into your calendars now, Cavaliers fans, because, barring something completely unexpected, UVA will be playing at Hard Rock Stadium in the Orange Bowl that night.
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