As the dust settles after a crazy college football weekend, Notre Dame heads back to South Bend with an 8-4 record. And while conference championships and BCS berths are still to be decided, Brian Kelly acknowledged after the game that winning or losing in Palo Alto really wouldn't have much effect on the team's bowl opportunities.
"I don't think so," Kelly said Saturday night, when asked if the outcome of the game altered his team's postseason options. "There's going to be some opportunities for us that we'll just have to sit and evaluate and find out."
Such is life for Notre Dame, one of college football's 800-pound gorillas, somehow forced to wait until the music stops to scramble for a postseason chair. While that will change next year with the Irish's tie-in with the ACC, until then it's up to Kelly and Notre Dame to smile pretty for the men in the funny sport coats.
"There's a lot of schools that obviously still have an opportunity to take some of those spots that are there," Kelly said. "We're in a unique situation this year. We're appreciative of any bowl that would take a good hard look at us."
For the Irish head coach, saying the right things while things sort themselves out is the prudent thing to do. But behind the scenes, expect athletic director Jack Swarbrick to understand just how valuable Notre Dame is to a mid-tier bowl game.
And after being one of the leading voices in bringing together the College Football Playoff, don't think a little bowl-season horse-trading isn't already in the works.
Let's walk through a few of the much-discussed bowl scenarios for the Irish:
At this point, it's hard not to think that the Pinstripe Bowl is a leading consideration. It's in New York City. The bowl has an opening for Notre Dame. And it could have a juicy storyline, with CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm predicting the Irish to play against Cincinnati, matching Brian Kelly up with his former program.
#NotreDame WR TJ Jones on bowl destination desires: "Definitely not to play somewhere that it's snowing."— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) December 1, 2013
Of course, the appeal of the Big Apple might be lost on a few players. Just take the postgame comments from Irish captains Zack Martin and TJ Jones.
"We’ll go where they send us, but we’d like to go where it’s sunny out," Martin said.
It doesn't feel like a game anybody really wants to play, but it's the game that makes the most sense. With the Irish already negotiating with one arm tied behind their back, returning to the Big Apple isn't the worst thing in the world.
Playing on Christmas Eve is far from ideal for the country's preeminent Catholic university. But the experience Notre Dame had playing in the Hawaii Bowl in 2008 was a great one. The bowl has ties to the Mountain West and Conference USA but has made room for the Irish before.
Playing any game this early might pose a problem, especially with finals concluding on December 20. And as Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune points out, making it to Hawaii in time for some of the bowl's scheduled activities might not even be possible.
Irish fans hoping a game in San Diego is in the future also will need to see how this coming week plays out. But even though Army is ineligible to participate in the postseason, the Poinsettia Bowl has a backup agreement with the MAC that the game is protecting.
“We would not renege on our agreement with the Mid-American Conference,” Poinsettia Bowl executive director Bruce Binkowski told the South Bend Tribune last weekend. “We have a long-standing relationship with them, either as a backup or a primary team through 2019. And I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.”
TJ Jones said he and his fellow seniors will meet with Brian Kelly on Thursday to discuss possible bowl spots.— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) December 1, 2013
While heading to Detroit to play in the Little Caesars Bowl or Shreveport to play in the Independence Bowl doesn't seem overly attractive to the players, Kelly or Swarbrick, the SEC and the Big Ten won't be able to fill their allotments, leaving a slot open for the Irish if they want it.
Perhaps the Heart of Dallas Bowl, played on January 1 in the Cotton Bowl (not to be confused with the Cotton Bowl, now played in AT&T Stadium in Arlington), could be another opportunity. While the Irish have already planted their flag in Dallas this year, a preferential date (December 30) and a temperate locale wouldn't be terrible.
Of course, one thing that continually goes unmentioned is the haziness of all bowl affiliations. For as well-intentioned as the conference affiliations and suggested pairings are, it's all a mere guideline for what the bowls want to do.
And here's what we know they want to do: make money.
For many games, that is guaranteed if they can bring Notre Dame and its traveling army to town. If that means upsetting the fifth-best team in a BCS conference or temporarily offending a non-AQ program that will likely lose money on any bowl trip, so be it.
While many have mentioned the Irish perhaps jumping into the ACC's pool of games a season early, thinking outside the box might give you an inside track on what Swarbrick and Notre Dame brass are thinking.
Some trading partners aren't likely. Don't expect Jim Delany to do the Irish any favors this postseason. (Nor should you expect the Irish to ask for any.) But Notre Dame has a friend in Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, with the former Stanford athletic director possessing a great working relationship with Swarbrick.
So if San Diego is the preferred locale for the Irish this postseason, it isn't necessarily Poinsettia Bowl or bust. The Holiday Bowl on December 30 matches up the No. 3 team in the Pac-12 with the No. 5 team in the Big 12.
If Swarbrick and Bowlsby nearly figured out a way to get Notre Dame and Stanford to play in China, they can find a way to make this work.