Despite two losses already this season, Notre Dame still has a chance for a shot at a BCS bowl at the end of the season and avert the fate of being the only school with more than three appearances to end up 0-for-BCS.
But whatever flickering hopes the Fighting Irish have will be instantly extinguished with a loss to USC in South Bend on Saturday. A win over a rudderless Trojans team under an interim coach is a must for Notre Dame to earn a shot at its fifth BCS bowl bid—and its first win.
As it is right now, a BCS bid is a tall order, made taller after losses by Oklahoma and Michigan last Saturday. Both teams were undefeated entering last weekend and were favored to win their games. But the Sooners were stunned by a Texas team seemingly playing out the string with a lame-duck coach and the Wolverines blew several opportunities to close out the game before losing in four overtimes at Penn State.
Those losses hurt Notre Dame in two ways: They affect the Irish's strength of schedule component in the BCS computer rankings and they also serve to keep them down in the polls as the voters are now less willing to "credit" the Irish for those losses.
This leaves Notre Dame (4-2)—ranked No. 31 in the simulated BCS standings— with no other option but to run the table and finish the season 10-2. With other conferences continuing their internecine warfare, the Irish can fly under the radar and finish the season with a flourish. They will be favored to win every one of their remaining games except the season finale at Stanford.
After USC (4-2), the Irish's schedule gets considerably softer, with games against Air Force (1-6), Navy (3-2), Pittsburgh (3-2) and BYU (4-2) before facing the Cardinal (5-1), who also lost their first game of the season last week and most likely fell out of contention for the BCS national championship.
For Notre Dame to qualify for a BCS bowl, it merely needs to finish in the Top 14 of the final BCS standings. As long as they're eligible for an at-large berth—with the Irish's clout and brand power—it's almost certain they will be picked by one of the non-championship bowls, perhaps even taken first by the Orange Bowl, which last hosted Notre Dame on Jan. 1, 1996, in the pre-BCS era.
The outlook for a 10-2 Notre Dame team also is favorable thanks to the shrinking pool of eligible teams. Of the 10 BCS slots, the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC likely will claim two berths each, and then no more than one each from the Big Ten, Big 12 and AAC, provided both Ohio State and Louisville go on to win their respective conferences.
That puts the number at nine, so potentially Notre Dame's biggest competition for the final spot could be from a non-AQ conference team—either Fresno State or Northern Illinois—that would be guaranteed a spot if it finishes in the Top 12 (or Top 16 if it's ahead of an AQ conference champion) of the final BCS standings.
So if you're an Irish fan, a little scoreboard watching is in order. You must root for Ohio State and Louisville to win their conferences and both NIU and Fresno to lose a game somewhere along the way. But first thing first, Notre Dame must beat their arch rival USC on Saturday.
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