Thanks to a 12-0 season that woke up the fading echoes surrounding the Notre Dame football program, there was little drama leading up to college football's version of "Selection Sunday" last Dec. 2. The Fighting Irish finished the season ranked No. 1 and played in their first BCS National Championship Game.
While a return trip to the sport's grandest stage (or one of the BCS's four other smaller "stages") cannot be ruled out, the Irish may face a less-than-ideal situation this fall when it comes to bowl possibilities.
After the Russell Athletic Bowl (Champs Sports Bowl at the time) used its once-every-four-years option to select Notre Dame in 2011, the Irish were left without any other tie-ins for 2012 and 2013. It never came to fruition in 2012, but it remains an issue heading into the upcoming season.
While ESPN outlined the possibility of Notre Dame being completely left out of the bowl picture, the permutations that must occur for that scenario to take place are slim at best. It would require not only for there to be 70 bowl-eligible teams, but for each of the 10 conferences to fill all of its tie-ins. Should any of the 10 conferences not meet its allotment, Notre Dame would be not only eligible to fill that open slot, but would almost certainly be the first choice of any bowl needing to go the at-large route.
The most likely conferences to not fill all of their tie-ins are the American (six slots for 10 teams), Big Ten (eight slots for 11 teams), Conference USA (six slots for 14 teams), Mountain West (six slots for 12 teams) and SEC (10 slots for 14 teams). Four additional slots will open up due to BCS at-large teams.
Army will play in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego if eligible, but the Black Knights have qualified for the postseason just once since 1996. Replacing their biggest rival from the first half of the 20th century might be the best bet for the Irish in terms of destination and exposure. They would meet the No. 2 team from the Mountain West (Fresno State?).
Sorting through some of the other bowls that have the last selections in the conferences listed, it is evident that Notre Dame's most likely bowl destinations are less than appealing for both the team and its fans. How does the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl at stale Tropicana Field against SMU or Middle Tennessee sound? Does the Little Caesar's Bowl in chilly Detroit against Bowling Green move your meter? What about the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., against N.C. State?
Despite the loss of Everett Golson, Tyler Eifert and Manti Te'o, Notre Dame is still a viable BCS bowl contender. If the Irish fall short of that goal, would there be any buzz around whatever third-tier bowl in which the Irish play? While the 2010 and 2011 seasons didn't go as many Irish fans had hoped, getting to renew rivalries with Miami (FL) and Florida State at least added some intrigue to the postseason matchups. The same can't be said of Bowling Green or Middle Tennessee, unless, of course, Irish fans still hold Bowling Green hiring Urban Meyer away from Notre Dame against it.
Ten wins should all but ensure a BCS bid for the Irish, but the schedule is rigorous once again with games against Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, BYU and Stanford. The difference between Miami and Detroit is as narrow as whether the Irish go 5-2 or 4-3 in those showcase games.
It's a dilemma Notre Dame has known about since that 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, but with tie-ins locked in through this season, there was really nothing it could have done except sit back and hope it could avoid the situation. It worked perfectly in 2012, but based on the happenings within the program in the first six months of the year, 2013 may not be so smooth.
Don't worry about stocking up on sunscreen for the holiday season quite yet. But Irish fans may want to have a hooded sweatshirt handy.