UPDATE: Wisconsin ranked at No. 6, with Auburn somewhere behind the Badgers and Alabama in the College Football Playoff, removes the Camping World Bowl from these considerations. If Notre Dame is in the top 12, it will head to a playoff-eligible bowl, most likely the Cotton Bowl. If not, then the Irish will be in the Citrus Bowl facing an SEC team on Jan. 1.
By the time today’s first NFL game kicks off, Notre Dame will know its bowl destination. If not then, shortly thereafter. It entirely depends on the final College Football Playoff selection committee poll, though not entirely concerning where the committee slots the Irish. The poll is scheduled to be announced at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Three possibilities remain plausible enough to be outlined.
Playoff-eligible bowl, most likely the Cotton Bowl
This is the most unlikely outcome, but also the one deserving of the most debate. After the weekend’s conference championships, Notre Dame is one of three teams in the rational discussion for the 12th and final spot in the six playoff-access bowls.
In last week’s poll, TCU ranked No. 11, Washington at No. 13 and the Irish were No. 15. Since then, the Horned Frogs lost 41-17 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. Neither the Huskies nor Notre Dame played, while No. 12 Stanford fell 31-28 to USC on Friday.
There is logic to elevating the Irish past TCU and Washington.
There is also one fact: The committee ranked the Huskies ahead of Notre Dame last week. It is a stretch to think Georgia’s and USC’s victories were enough to change that, especially when considering Miami’s face plant (lost 38-3 to Clemson) diminished the Irish claim.
If the Irish finish at No. 12 in the ranking, then a playoff-eligible bowl it is, and the Cotton Bowl seems the most likely destination. Central Florida is a near lock for the Peach Bowl due to proximity. USC is headed to the Fiesta Bowl for similar reasoning, and Miami is obligated to the Orange Bowl. Avoiding regular season rematches, Notre Dame would not head to either of those latter two.
An SEC team will almost undoubtedly oppose the Knights in Atlanta, and one way or another it is natural to move a Big Ten team to face the Pac 12 champion, befitting tradition. Then, either a remaining SEC team or Big Ten team — whichever conference does not snag the fourth spot in the Playoff — will face the Hurricanes.
That leaves the Cotton Bowl and, presumably, Penn State (Dec. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Don’t hold your breath.
Citrus Bowl; Orlando, Fla. (Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC)
For the Irish to head to the New Year’s Day lead-in to the Playoff, Wisconsin must head to the Orange Bowl. The Badgers get that right only if they are ranked ahead of all non-Playoff SEC teams. In other words, Wisconsin needs to be ranked ahead of Auburn and possibly Alabama, if Ohio State claims the fourth and final Playoff spot.
The Buckeyes cannot go to the Orange Bowl, a quirk included in the contracts as something of a concession to the Rose Bowl in years where the Rose Bowl is a semifinal. Thus, even if Alabama makes the Playoff, it is the Badgers who need to fit in ahead of Auburn, not Ohio State.
In the case of Alabama making the Playoff, a conspiracy theorist could see the committee putting Wisconsin ahead of Auburn to be sure to send an SEC team to the Peach Bowl, held at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. If the Tide do not make the Playoff, then that would no longer be a concern as the SEC would have two teams floating amongst the eight to be assigned to eligible bowls.
If any of this comes to be, Notre Dame would face an SEC team in the Citrus Bowl, theoretically LSU.
Camping World Bowl; Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 28, 4:15 p.m., ESPN)
If Alabama is not in the Playoff, then this is the reality awaiting the Irish. The Tide would head to the Orange Bowl, a Big Ten team to the Citrus Bowl and then Notre Dame plays the Thursday evening following Christmas.
This all also applies if Alabama is in the Playoff, but Auburn finishes ranked ahead of Wisconsin. The Tigers would subsequently head to the Orange Bowl, and the dominoes fall right back into place.
The Irish would face a Big 12 foe, perhaps Iowa State.
Nailing down which of the latter two scenarios is most likely hinges largely on if Ohio State or Alabama claims the final Playoff spot. If the Buckeyes do, then the odds tilt heavily toward Notre Dame going to the Camping World Bowl. If the Tide gets a chance to face Clemson for the third January in a row (from a selfish view, please let that be case), then the question would be if the committee gives merit to how close Wisconsin kept the Big 10 title game compared to the SEC’s blowout with Auburn on the losing end.
A meaningless prediction from these parts: Alabama gets in, Wisconsin heads to the Orange and Notre Dame beats LSU to start 2018.