Notre Dame’s regular season is complete, but its bowl destination is still far from settled. Several games this weekend could affect the Irish’s holiday plans. Here’s a run down of the bowl options for Notre Dame at this point.
Champs Sports Bowl (December 28 – Orlando, Florida)
This seems to be the most commonly projected bowl for Notre Dame after the Irish picked up win #7 on the road against USC this past weekend. The Champs Sports Bowl can pick Notre Dame once every four years as long as the Irish are bowl eligible. The questions here for Notre Dame are: will the Champs Sports Bowl pick Notre Dame over say a 9-3 West Virginia team (assuming the Mountaineers beat Rutgers and UConn beats South Florida) and will they use their one in every four years exception on a 7 win Irish team as opposed to waiting for a potentially better Irish squad in another year?
If West Virginia or UConn loses this week, this bowl seems like a lock. UConn certainly has a good chance to lose to a South Florida team that just upset Miami this past weekend, but West Virginia looks like a good bet to beat 4-7 Rutgers – especially after the beating Rutgers took last weekend to Louisville.
Maryland would be the most likely opponent for Notre Dame if they end up in Orlando. Ironically, the only pre-season prediction I came remotely close to getting right was picking the Champs Sports Bowl as Notre Dame’s bowl game. I had picked Miami to be the Irish opponent though. Had South Florida not beaten the Hurricanes, Randy Shannon might still have a job and that prediction may have come true.
Hyundai Sun Bowl (December 31 – El Paso, Texas)
If the Champs Sports Bowl ends up not selecting Notre Dame, a Pac 10 bowl game seems the most likely bet for Notre Dame. Right now the Pac 10 has just 3 bowl eligible teams – Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona. Oregon and Stanford are projected for BCS games at this point and Arizona appears headed to the Alamo Bowl. USC would be eligible based on their record, but they are in the first year of their bowl ban and cannot participate in a bowl this season. That leaves 3 potential Pac 10 bids available to Notre Dame.
The Pac 10 has two other teams that could become bowl eligible this weekend – Oregon State and Washington. Oregon got shut out by Stanford this past weekend and will host #2 Oregon so odds are the Beavers won’t be bowling this year. Washington, however, has the Apple Cup against in-state rival Washington. With the Cougars sitting at 2-9, Washington has a pretty good chance to become bowl eligible even though they will travel to Pullman for their rivalry game.
If Washington wins and Oregon State loses, the Sun Bowl becomes Notre Dame’s best bet for a Pac 10 bowl slot as Washington would then head to the Holiday Bowl. The Sun Bowl sets up nicely for Notre Dame’s finals schedule should the Champs Sports Bowl pass on the Irish.
NC State or Miami would be Notre Dame’s most likely opponent here. An interesting twist here is that former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is the current linebackers coach for NC State.
Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl (December 30 – San Diego, California)
If both Washington and Oregon State lose this weekend, the Holiday Bowl becomes an option for Notre Dame and would pit Notre Dame up against Missouri most likely. This would be the toughest draw for the Irish and would give Notre Dame the best opportunity to make a statement. A season ending trip to San Diego would be a nice reward for the players after such a trying year too.
MAACO Bowl (December 22 – Las Vegas, Nevada)
Should Oregon State AND Washington both win this weekend, the Irish would have one final Pac 10 bowl slot to choose from – the MAACO Bowl. Again, this is if the Champs Sports Bowl passes, but this would pit the Irish up against a Mountain West team – most likely either BYU, Air Force, or Utah. A rematch with Utah isn’t too interesting of a match-up, but a game against BYU is intriguing.
A match-up with Air Force would give Notre Dame a third look at the option and a third military academy opponent this season.
There have been some other bowls linked to Notre Dame over the past few weeks, but after some research it looks like these are Notre Dame’s only options. The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl will have an opening with the 6th place Pac 10 team not being eligible, but that spot then goes to an ACC team if they have an extra eligible team which they do. Boston College is being projected here against Boise State. After winning 8 straight bowls, Boston College could be headed for their 3rd straight bowl loss if that’s the match-up they end up with.
The Little Ceasars Bowl has been mentioned as well, but the Big 10 has 8 bowl eligible teams.
With 6 bowl eligible teams from the Big East and 8 from the Big 12, it doesn’t look like the Pinstripes Bowl in New York would be an option for the Irish either.
Bottom line is, if UConn or West Virginia lose this weekend, the Irish are likely headed to Disney World for Christmas. If both win, things could get a little interesting, but there are still plenty of solid options left thanks to the Pac 10′s struggles and USC’s bowl ineligibility.