With Notre Dame officially eliminated from playoff contention following the results of Saturday’s championship games, the likely 5th place Irish are assured of a New Year’s 6 bowl matchup. The only question is, which one? After completion of every game last night, a series of bowl projections came out with two popular matchups for the Irish – the Fiesta Bowl vs. Oklahoma State or the Peach Bowl vs. ACC Champion Pitt.
UPDATE: the official NY6 bowl pairings were announced on Sunday afternoon and Notre Dame will square off against Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.
From a matchup standpoint, it depends on what you are looking for as a fan and which is more preferable. A Fiesta Bowl matchup with Oklahoma State sure looks more winnable for the Irish after watching the Cowboys come up just short against Baylor yesterday. However, from an entertainment standpoint, a showdown with Pitt and Kenny Pickett in the Peach Bowl would be a much more entertaining though likely much more anxiety-producing as well.
Pitt blew out Wake Forest last night 45-21 in the ACC Championship game powered by their defense and Pickett, who accounted for three touchdowns on the night.
It is debatable which opponent would give Notre Dame a better opportunity to end their NY6 bowl drought. Oklahoma State entered Saturday ranked 5th with a chance to make the playoffs, but did anyone watching yesterday look at them and think they looked anything close to a playoff contender? Like Notre Dame, they started the season with close calls against bad teams and had a solid second half. Still, they lost to Iowa State and the Fighting Matt Campbells and barely beat Texas. Their signature win was the collapse by Oklahoma in Bedlam when it’s debatable whether or not Lincoln Riley was focused on the task at hand.
Pitt’s offense could score points in bunches with Pickett at the helm, but they also lost to Western Michigan and Miami this year. Yesterday’s game against Wake Forest was the first time they played a ranked opponent this season. Pitt’s defense also let Brennan Armstrong throw for nearly 500 yards on them in a shootout at the end of the season.
From a fan’s perspective, there is the date/time consideration as well. The Peach Bowl is a Thursday night game on December 30th while the Fiesta Bowl is a 1:00 kickoff on Saturday, January 1. As someone with a newborn baby in the house, I am hopeful for the Saturday afternoon option.
Notre Dame has a long history with the Fiesta Bowl, while they have never appeared in a Peach Bowl, so if the Irish are headed to Atlanta, it would be a program first. Notre Dame’s history with both potential opponents is flipped. If the Irish go to their first Peach Bowl and face the Panthers, they’ll square off against a program they’ve met 72 times and own a 50-21-1 record against, including a 45-3 thumping last season. If it’s the Fiesta Bowl and Oklahoma State, the Irish and Cowboys will face each other for the first time.
Regardless of where Notre Dame lands, an NY6 bowl in a transition season like the one the Irish had is still a very good outcome. Notre Dame started a graduate-transfer quarterback and guard on offense, lost half of its wide receiver and linebacker rooms to injury, and then lost its star safety for half of the season.
Whichever bowl the Irish end up in, new head coach Marcus Freeman will have an opportunity to do in his first game what Brian Kelly was never able to accomplish in 12 seasons in charge of the program – win an NY6 bowl game. Kelly compiled a 5-5 record in bowl games, including 0-4 in NY6/Playoff/BCS bowls. Given Notre Dame’s second-half surge and what figures to be a very motivated Irish squad, there’s a good chance Freeman one-ups his old boss on his first day on the job.