Notre Dame Football: Reassessing the Irish's Bowl Picture at Midseason

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Notre Dame Football: Reassessing the Irish's Bowl Picture at Midseason
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the summer, we explained Notre Dame's bowl dilemma that resulted from not having any tie-ins after the Champs Sports (now Russell Athletic) Bowl used its once-in-four-years option to choose the Fighting Irish back in 2011. Notre Dame faced the same issue last year, but went 12-0 and qualified for the BCS Championship Game, so it never came to fruition.

With no bowl tie-ins, and a BCS bowl bid likely requiring six straights win to close the season, 4-2 Notre Dame may well be left to fill an unused slot in a lower-tier bowl. Barring a second half of the season that matches the craziness of 2007, nine wins likely won't be enough for the Irish to earn a BCS invitation.

Is Notre Dame capable of running the table? Certainly. Will it? Probably not. If it doesn't, Notre Dame will have to wait and see what potential options are available. Let's look, conference by conference, at some potential openings where Notre Dame could land come the holiday season.

 

American Athletic Conference

Bowl Tie-ins: 6 (BCS, Russell Athletic, Belk, Pinstripe, BBVA Compass, Beef O'Brady's)

Teams currently .500 or better: 5

It looks like the AAC should be able to fill five of its slots. Cincinnati and Rutgers are both 4-2, but have manageable schedules over the next few weeks and need just two wins each to go bowling.

Louisville, Houston and UCF are locks. It would take a meltdown from either the Bearcats or Scarlet Knights to open up the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. for Notre Dame. The Beef O' Brady's Bowl, held at Tropicana Field in Tampa, Fla., is likely to have an opening. With a weekday afternoon time slot on Dec. 23, this would probably be a last resort for the Irish.

 

ACC

Bowl Tie-ins: 8 (BCS, Chick-fil-A, Russell Athletic, Sun, Music City, Belk, AdvoCare V100, Military)

Teams currently .500 or better: 12

Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech are sitting pretty. After that, there's a whole bunch of mediocrity with 4-2 Duke, 3-2 Pittsburgh and five 3-3 teams. If Georgia Tech finishes 6-6, it would need a waiver from the NCAA for the second straight year to go to a bowl, as two twins would have come against FCS opponents.

It's more likely than not that the ACC will fill its eight slots, but it's also possible the league could send two teams to the BCS. If so, a trip to Annapolis for the Military Bowl against a Conference USA opponent could be an option for the Irish.

 

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Notre Dame last played a Conference USA team in 2010, when it lost to Tulsa. Could they do so in a bowl game this season?

Big 12

Bowl Tie-ins: 7 (BCS, Cotton, Alamo, Buffalo Wild Wings, Holiday, Meineke Car Care, Pinstripe)

Teams currently .500 or better: 7

Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech should be fine. It's a little dicier after that. Texas is 4-2, but the schedule toughens with road trips to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor, and home games with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

One of TCU or West Virginia, both currently 3-3, likely gets to six wins. Kansas State is the wild card, sitting at 2-4, but has already played Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. The consensus here is Bill Snyder's team finds a way to get to six wins. With two BCS bids a long shot given the league's struggles, I wouldn't expect any openings in either Houston (Meineke Car Care) or New York City (Pinstripe).

 

Big Ten

Bowl Tie-ins: 8 (BCS, Capital One, Outback, Buffalo Wild Wings, Gator, Meineke Car Care, Heart of Dallas, Little Caesar's)

Teams currently .500 or better: 10 (not including Penn State, who is banned from a bowl)

Six teams are in great shape and can be considered locks (Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin). Iowa is 4-2 but has a murderous schedule. Minnesota is also 4-2, but is without its head coach for the time being and may struggle to win another game.

The winner of the Illinois-Indiana game has a decent chance to get to six wins. My hunch is Iowa has one upset in it to get to six wins, and Indiana returns to the postseason for the first time in six years. It would then come down to whether or not the Big Ten can earn two BCS bids, which would open up the Little Caesar's Bowl in chilly Detroit for Notre Dame.

 

Conference USA

Bowl Tie-ins: 7 (Liberty, New Orleans, Beef O'Brady's, Hawaii, Heart of Dallas, Military, Armed Forces)

Teams currently .500 or better: 5 

East Carolina, Marshall, Rice and Tulane should have no problem getting to six wins. 3-3 North Texas, 3-4 Middle Tennessee and 2-4 Tulsa also have decent chances of getting to that number. The league probably has one open slot somewhere, but with no set selection order for the teams (other than the champion to the Liberty Bowl), it's too soon to tell which of the games could be available.

 

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Notre Dame hasn't played at the storied Cotton Bowl since 1994. Could the Heart of Dallas Bowl be an option for Notre Dame this year?

MAC

Bowl Tie-ins: 3 (Go Daddy, Little Caesar's, Famous Idaho Potato)

Teams currently .500 or better: 6

The MAC has the worst bowl agreements relative to the strength of its conference. The league will again fill all of its slots. Sorry to disappoint Irish fans who were clamoring to spend the third weekend of December in Boise.

 

Mountain West

Bowl Tie-ins: 6 (Las Vegas, Poinsettia, Armed Forces, New Mexico, Hawaii, Famous Idaho Potato

Teams currently .500 or better: 7

If Fresno State can run the table, the Bulldogs will play in a BCS bowl. Boise State and Wyoming are the only other two teams who can feel good about their bowl chances. UNLV is 4-2, but has a difficult remaining schedule. Utah State, at 3-4, is a bit of an unknown after losing star quarterback Chuckie Keeton for the season earlier this month. Most likely, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will be open, but Boise won't be at the top of Notre Dame's most preferred list.

 

Pac-12

Bowl Tie-ins: 7 (BCS, Alamo, Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas, Kraft Fight Hunger, New Mexico)

Teams currently .500 or better: 10

The Pac-12 should be able to get two teams in BCS bowls, likely some combination of Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. That means the league would need eight bowl-eligible teams to fill all of its slots. Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington will join the top three teams. USC and Utah should be there as well, with Arizona and Washington State still in the mix. In perhaps its strongest year ever, the Pac-12 will have little trouble filling all of its slots.

 

SEC

Bowl Tie-ins: 10 (BCS, Capital One, Cotton, Outback, Chick-fil-A, Gator, Music City, Liberty, BBVA Compass, AdvoCare V100)

Teams currently .500 or better: 12

The SEC is a lock to send two teams to the BCS, so in reality the league has 11 tie-ins. Four SEC East teams are locks, with the winner of the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game possibly joining them. The SEC West will have at least four bowl-eligible teams, with Ole Miss likely a fifth. Upsets could get the league to 11, but the more likely scenario leaves an open slot in Shreveport, La. for the AdvoCare V100 (formerly Independence) Bowl. Notre Dame last played in that game in 1997 when it lost to LSU.

 

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Notre Dame's last visit to Lousiana resulted in a 41-14 loss to LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Could the Irish return to the Pelican State in December?

Sun Belt

Bowl Tie-ins: 2 (New Orleans, Go Daddy)

Teams currently .500 or better: 4

At least two of Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy and Western Kentucky will get to six wins, filling the Sun Belt's pair of tie-ins.

 

Independents

Bowl Tie-ins: 3 (Kraft Fight Hunger - BYU, Poinsettia - Army, Armed Forces - Navy)

BYU's win over Georgia Tech Saturday night means the Cougars should get to their ninth straight bowl under Bronco Mendenhall. Navy, at 3-2, has enough winnable games left to scrape together six wins. At 3-4, Army is still in the mix. Most likely, the loser of the Army-Navy game on Dec. 14 will be out. However, if one enters the game at 5-6, the possibility of an open slot wouldn't be determined until after that game, just 12 days before the Poinsettia Bowl and 15 before the Armed Forces Bowl.

 

Summary

Here are the five most likely destinations for Notre Dame should it not qualify for a BCS bowl. Obviously, this is a fluid situation that can change from week to week, but it's a reasonable guess based on where things stand in mid-October.

  1. Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 26, San Diego) vs. Mountain West
  2. Military Bowl (Dec. 27, Annapolis, Md.) vs. ACC or Conference USA
  3. AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31, Shreveport, La.) vs. ACC or SEC
  4. Little Caesar's Bowl (Dec. 26, Detroit) vs. MAC
  5. Armed Forces Bowl (Dec. 31, Fort Worth, Tex.) vs. Mountain West

Remember, beginning in 2014, the Fighting Irish will be a part of the ACC bowl selection process, so this is simply a one-year concern for the program.

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