Mailbag: What needs to happen for UNC to reach the playoff?

With championship weekend on the horizon, we’re taking your questions for all things ACC football.

From Jimmy in Wilmington, N.C.: What needs to happen for UNC to make the College Football Playoff?

First off, if UNC is going to have any shot at making the College Football Playoff, it’s going to have to beat Clemson Saturday. This part is obvious, but if the Tar Heels lose that game, they definitely won’t make the Top 4, and they may not even make a New Year’s Six bowl.

Now, if UNC wins, it gets tricky. We know Oklahoma is in. We know the winner of the Big Ten is going to get in. If Alabama beats Florida in the SEC Championship Game, the Crimson Tide are in. So where it gets interesting is with the Pac-12 title game.

Tar Heel fans are going to want to cheer on USC this weekend when the Trojans play Stanford. Even with two losses, I think the committee will view Stanford’s resume as the more impressive body of work in comparison to a 12-1 UNC. If Carolina beats Clemson, its best win will be better than Stanford’s best win (Notre Dame), but the Cardinal also would have beaten USC twice, UCLA and Washington State, which are all more notable than UNC’s second-best win (Miami). And, of course, the committee has made it clear that the Heels are being held back by their loss to South Carolina and the fact they played two FCS opponents. Both of Stanford’s losses were to teams currently in the Top 25 of the CFP rankings.

If Stanford loses to USC, I actually believe UNC has a decent chance of getting a playoff spot. Ohio State is still in the conversation, but in order for the Buckeyes, who didn’t make the Big Ten title game, to gain a spot over a 12-1 ACC champion in UNC, the committee would have to determine that Urban Meyer’s squad is “unequivocally” better than the Tar Heels. In a scenario where UNC beats Clemson, I don’t think the Buckeyes will have done enough to be considered unequivocally better. A win over the Tigers would be better than Ohio State’s top win (Michigan), and an argument can be made that UNC’s second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-best victories are all better than the Buckeyes’ second-best victory. Should that be outweighed by the Tar Heels’ early-season loss to the Gamecocks? I don’t think so.

The playoff picture would become even wilder if Florida upsets Alabama, but I believe the most realistic scenario where UNC could get in would be with a win over Clemson and a Stanford loss to USC.

From Thomas in Fort Lauderdale: After locking up Mark Richt, how long before Miami is competing for national championships again?

There’s at least a decent foundation already set for Miami to be competitive in 2016. Brad Kaaya and Joe Yearby are both great players who will be back on offense, and Stacy Coley could be in the mix as well should he decide to return for his senior year. The defense loses a lot, particularly in the secondary, but the pieces should be in place for the Hurricanes to have at least eight or nine wins next fall.

Once Richt gets a few of his own recruiting classes in, I think Miami could be a threat on the national level within just a few years. We’re talking about a coach whose name recruits will recognize. At Georgia, Richt and his staff were always signing top-10 classes and sometimes top-five classes. Now, he’s going to be coaching in an area that produces some of the best high school talent in the country. Throw in the fact that Richt owned in-state recruiting while at UGa and has roots planted in the state of Georgia, and I don’t think he’ll have any trouble at all luring 4- and 5-star players to Coral Gables.

Miami isn’t going to transform into a title contender overnight, but I think the ingredients are there for the program to be in the national conversation in just a few years.

From Mike in Washington, D.C.: Which coaching candidate does Virginia turn to with Mark Richt off the board?

Virginia can go in a few directions. If the Cavaliers are looking for a young candidate with head-coaching experience, Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm could get a look. Brohm is in his second year as the head man of the Hilltoppers and has the team at 10-2 right now. The 44-year-old is also an offensive guy, which is probably the type of coach UVa is looking for given its struggles on that side of the ball over the better part of the last 12 years.

If age isn’t as much of a factor, Mack Brown is a guy to keep an eye on. At 64, he’s not the long-term answer for the Wahoos, but he is an offensive-minded former coach who has had success in the past. The highlight of his coaching career was winning the national title at Texas in 2005, but he also coached at UNC for 10 seasons and led the Tar Heels to back-to-back Top 10 finishes in his final two years in Chapel Hill. Brown’s last four years with the Longhorns were underwhelming, but he wouldn’t be facing the same type of expectations in Charlottesville.

UVa may also end up hiring an up-and-coming coordinator as its next head coach. One potential candidate who falls under that category is Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. Despite losing multiple key players to injury early in the season, the Fighting Irish are No. 25 nationally in yards per game.

From Ray in Atlanta: Could Paul Johnson be on the hot seat next year?

There are a lot of factors that go into this, but most arrows are pointing in the direction of Paul Johnson being safe through next season. Never say never, especially if Georgia Tech has another three-win season in 2016. But it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where firing Paul Johnson at the end of next season would make more sense than retaining him.

Just a year ago, Johnson signed a contract extension that runs through 2020. The school would be looking at a multi-million-dollar buyout if it fired him, and as evidenced by the school’s decision to bring back basketball coach Brian Gregory last season, it would create a significant financial burden for Georgia Tech if it let Johnson go.

Speaking of Gregory, while the Yellow Jackets have been playing well on the hardwood to start this season, it’s still possible that the basketball program could endure a coaching change in the spring. A price would come with that, and that would make for one more reason to hold on to Johnson.

Most importantly, I don’t expect Georgia Tech to struggle next fall the way it did this season. The younger players will grow up, and the injury bug can’t bite like that every year. Johnson will be fine, and so will his team.