Notre Dame Football: Irish's Most Likely Bowl Opponents
Through nine games, Notre Dame's bowl picture remains muddied.
At 7-2, the Irish remain in contention for a BCS bowl berth, though the odds of fourth-year head coach Brian Kelly's squad doing so are low, given that two of its final three opponents are BYU and No. 5 Stanford. Also making life difficult for Notre Dame is the requirement of finishing within the Top 14 of the final BCS standings to qualify for an at-large BCS berth.
The Irish checked in at No. 23 in the most recent BCS standings, and advancing at least nine spots to No. 14 seems a harrowing task with only three games remaining in the regular season.
As for which teams the Irish could be matched up against in the postseason, the opportunities are aplenty.
Let's take a look at the numerous possibilities.
Rice (Heart of Dallas Bowl)
As CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm has projected, Notre Dame's most likely non-BCS bowl game opponent would be Rice in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The game, played at the Cotton Bowl, annually pits Conference USA's fourth-place team against the Big Ten Conference's seventh-place team, and the Irish would have an opening here due to the Big Ten potentially not filling its number of allotted bowl slots.
After a 28-16 loss at North Texas on Halloween, the Owls dropped to 6-3 on the season but remain in the thick of the Conference USA championship chase.
Head coach David Bailiff's squad opened the season with a 52-31 loss to then-seventh-ranked Texas A&M in College Station, Texas but followed the loss with a 23-14 victory against former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis' Kansas squad.
With three winnable games remaining against Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tulane, it remains to be seen if Rice will indeed finish as Conference USA's fourth-place team, though it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for the Owls to find themselves matched up against the Irish on New Year's Day.
Florida State (Orange Bowl)
Among all of Notre Dame's realistic bowl possibilities, earning an invitation to the Orange Bowl is the least likely, but it remains in play.
Should that scenario play out and the top five teams in the BCS rankings hold serve, Florida State would be the Irish's opponent as the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, likely having to defeat Miami for a second time this season in the ACC Championship Game to secure its Orange Bowl berth.
Leading the way for the Seminoles in their pursuit of perfection is redshirt freshman quarterback and Heisman hopeful Jameis Winston, the type of explosive quarterback capable of tearing apart any defense in the country.
Considering the damage Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner did to the Irish defense during a 41-30 Wolverines victory, being matched up against Winston would be less than ideal for Kelly and Co.
Ball State (Little Caesars Pizza Bowl)
For Notre Dame to end up in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, the Big Ten Conference would need to fail to fill its allotment of bowl tie-ins.
Typically, the Big Ten's eighth-place team would play in this day-after-Christmas game at Ford Field in Detroit, though Notre Dame is a viable participant in the event that the Big Ten fails to finish with eight bowl-eligible teams.
On the other side of the contractual matchup terms is the Mid-American Conference, with Ball State being the most likely team out of the MAC to earn an invitation to what has been commonly referred to as simply "The Pizza Bowl."
What makes Notre Dame's inclusion in this bowl unlikely is the payout, which is $500,000 per team.
At that payout, the Irish would likely lose money when all expenses are added up.
Boise State (Poinsettia Bowl)
Among all the bowl options presented to Notre Dame this season, a trip to the Poinsettia Bowl seems the most likely.
Army has an automatic tie-in with the bowl game played in San Diego, though at 3-6, the Black Knights are unlikely to become bowl-eligible. Thus, Notre Dame could very well be selected as an at-large participant against Boise State, the Mountain West Conference's No. 2 team.
After losing just four combined games during the past three seasons, the Broncos have fallen below expectations this season, owning a 6-3 record through the season's first nine weeks.
And having played in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl in each of the past three seasons, an invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl would be a welcome change for a program always relishing the opportunity to make a statement on a national stage against a high-profile team such as Notre Dame.
Cincinnati (Pinstripe Bowl)
In another example of a bowl slot becoming available due to a conference not filling its allotted slots, Notre Dame could sneak into the Pinstripe Bowl thanks to the Big 12.
The Pinstripe Bowl annually pegs the Big 12's seventh-place team against the American Athletic Conference's fourth-place team, but the Big 12 only has five bowl-eligible teams as of this publication. Should the conference fail to feature a seventh bowl-eligible team, the Irish will likely be the first replacement option.
What would make this matchup a media darling is Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly coaching against his former team.
Kelly left the Bearcats prior to their 2010 Sugar Bowl matchup against Florida, resulting in a rather negative reaction from a prominent member of that season's team.