After the Champs Sports Bowl used its once-in-four years opportunity to select Notre Dame for its 2011 game, the Fighting Irish bowl options for 2012 appeared both limited and unattractive. For a program with the winning tradition of Notre Dame, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Military Bowl and Little Caesar’s Bowl offer little to get excited about.
Of course, this was back in the summer when the Fighting Irish were going to go 8-4 in a rebuilding year as Brian Kelly fully implemented an offense and a young secondary took its lumps against Denard Robinson, Stephen Morris, Landry Jones and Matt Barkley.
Back in March, I addressed the issue of Notre Dame’s lack of bowl tie-ins, saying that “eight or nine wins appear more realistic [than a BCS bowl].”
That line of thought hasn’t exactly come to fruition, as Notre Dame finds itself 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the BCS Standings as the calendar turns to November. It would now take a collapse of major proportions for the Irish to miss out on a BCS bowl.
Unlike many of the other title contenders, who know which bowl they’ll be headed to should they not qualify for the BCS Championship Game, Notre Dame could be headed to any of four time zones for its postseason game.
First, let’s eliminate the Orange Bowl. While Notre Dame could still land in Miami for the BCS Championship Game, the actual Orange Bowl won’t be hosting the Irish, as it has the final at-large selection and will not lose the ACC champion to the title game, which would give them a replacement pick. Thus, the Big East champion or Boise State appears headed to the Orange Bowl.
That leaves four options for Notre Dame: Fiesta Bowl, Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl or BCS Championship Game. Should Notre Dame fall short of its ultimate goal of playing Jan. 7 for the crystal ball, let’s look at where the Irish could land under various scenarios.
Scenario 1: Alabama and Oregon win out and play for the national title
Most bowl projections have the Irish headed to the desert. If the status quo holds, that’s exactly what will happen. However, a 12-0, 11-1 or 10-2 Notre Dame team could land in Arizona.
The Fiesta Bowl has the first pick of at-large teams after replacement picks are made. Should Alabama and Oregon remain unbeaten and play in the BCS Championship Game, the Sugar and Rose will pick teams to replace the Crimson Tide and Ducks, respectively. Kansas State, which wins the Big 12 title with a 3-1 or better finish, would be locked into the Fiesta Bowl.
The Sugar Bowl will likely take an SEC team to replace Alabama (Florida or Georgia), while the Rose Bowl will have a decision to make. USC would have a minimum of four losses at this point, so it would be out of the BCS mix. Oregon State would be the pick if it can remain in the top 14 of the BCS Standings, which would likely require the Beavers to go 10-2, losing only to Oregon. The Fiesta Bowl would then snatch up the Irish to play the Wildcats.
What if the Pac-12 does not have a second team that is BCS-eligible? The Rose Bowl may next turn to Oklahoma, but the Sooners would likely have to win out to finish in the top 14. With Nebraska the presumptive favorite to win the Big Ten, rekindling the Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry in Pasadena would be rather appealing. If Huskers-Sooners isn’t an option, the Rose Bowl could be interested in the Irish to play either Wisconsin or Nebraska.
Should Kansas State and Notre Dame both be unbeaten, the pressure on the Rose Bowl would be immense to pass on the Irish to allow No. 3 and No. 4 to meet in the Fiesta Bowl. If Notre Dame has a loss, however, it’s possible for them to return to the Rose Bowl for the first time in almost 90 years. If the Rose Bowl is forced to break tradition, why not do it with the most polarizing program in college football?
Scenario 2: Alabama and Kansas State play for the national title
This would eliminate the Rose Bowl, as the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions would make their traditional trips to Pasadena. After the Sugar Bowl replaces Alabama, the Fiesta Bowl would then get two picks in a row. The question here then becomes, can Oklahoma win out?
The Fiesta Bowl would get consecutive picks. It wouldn’t be obligated to pick a Big 12 team to replace Kansas State, but it would likely prefer to do so if one is eligible. A Big 12 vs. Notre Dame matchup would make the most sense.
The problem? Oklahoma is currently the No. 2 team in the Big 12 and just played Notre Dame this past weekend. Rematches are generally frowned upon (outside of Louisiana and Alabama), so the Fiesta Bowl would likely have to choose one or the other.
The call here is that they’d select the Irish, as Oklahoma has played in Arizona each of the past two postseasons. Should they succumb to pressure from their tie-in with the Big 12 and choose Oklahoma, Notre Dame would fall to the Sugar Bowl, where it'd likely have a rematch with either the 1981 Sugar Bowl against Georgia or the 1992 Sugar Bowl against Florida.
Who would be Notre Dame’s opponent in the Fiesta Bowl? It’s way too soon to tell, as at least six or seven teams could end up here. If West Virginia or Texas Tech win out to get to 10-2, they would be the favorites to play the Irish.
Scenario 3: Oregon and Kansas State play for the national title
This would require an Alabama loss, but far stranger things have happened, including three in a 24-hour period last November. This scenario mimics the Alabama-Kansas State scenario except for the fact that the Rose Bowl would still be in play for Notre Dame. This again would likely depend on how Oregon State finishes.
If they’re eligible for an at-large bid, the Beavers would likely get the nod. If they stumble down the stretch, Notre Dame becomes a major player here, since in this scenario, Kansas State would not be its opponent in the Fiesta Bowl, thus decreasing the calls for the Irish to land in Arizona.
Would Notre Dame-Nebraska or Notre Dame-Wisconsin draw some eyeballs? Even in a down year for the Big Ten, it absolutely would. A half-red, half-blue Rose Bowl on one of the United States’ great sporting days would truly be a sight to behold.
Should the Rose Bowl have a Pac-12 team to select, then Oklahoma would likely again be the determining factor whether the Irish go to Glendale or New Orleans.
Scenario 4: A one-loss team plays for the national title
Florida, Georgia and LSU are the only viable candidates at this point among one-loss teams to reach the national title game. All would have to win out, which would include beating Alabama (and in the case of Florida, having Georgia lose) and hope two of the other three unbeatens falter.
Should the dominoes fall this way, there would be little impact on Notre Dame (with at least one loss). It could still go to the Rose Bowl (if Oregon is the lone unbeaten), the Sugar Bowl (if Kansas State is the lone unbeaten) or the Fiesta Bowl (regardless of whether it’s Oregon or Kansas State in the title game).
Again, how Oregon State and Oklahoma (and in this case, USC) finish the season would be the tipping points for where the Irish would be headed.
While Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State are the teams to watch in regards to Notre Dame’s BCS Championship Game hopes, a deeper analysis of the BCS bowl picture shows that Oregon State and Oklahoma could have just as much of an impact as to where the Irish play in January.
So while their national title hopes were lost last Saturday night, Notre Dame fans should still keep an eye on the Sooners and Beavers over the next few weeks. Oregon States goes to Stanford next weekend, while Oklahoma has a tough pair of games back-to-back at West Virginia and home against rival Oklahoma State.
Regardless of where it lands and who it plays, Notre Dame has rendered its lack of bowl tie-ins moot with a season that most of its fans couldn’t even dream about over the summer. Even if the Irish aren’t playing for the national title, at least there will be no bus trip to Detroit.