Year one of Notre Dame’s football affiliation with the ACC may not have gone as hoped. (At least the second half of the season.) But a quick look at the Irish’s postseason options reminds us of the importance of Jack Swarbrick’s handy work, as a 7-5 Notre Dame team is still the belle of the ball.
While conference championship games and a final vote of the College Football Playoff selection committee still playing out, Notre Dame’s postseason fate won’t be decided until Sunday. But here’s an early look at some of the options Brian Kelly’s squad will have.
The Belk Bowl
Charlotte, North Carolina
One of the Tier I bowls with ACC/ND access, the Irish would likely be matched up against an SEC opponent. The location is a good one for Notre Dame — the Irish coaching staff has been recruiting the Carolinas well and it’s right in the middle of the ACC footprint that’s a talent-rich environment.
With the Tier I tiebreaker among bowl games essentially a lottery situation, a dollars and common-sense situation could make this a fit if the Irish want to spend late December in Charlotte.
The Music City Bowl
Nashville doesn’t sound like too bad of a consolation prize for the Irish, either. Again, the Irish could be matched up with an SEC opponent, and perhaps it’s the hometown(ish) Tennessee Volunteers and head coach Butch Jones, who has taken over for Brian Kelly at each of his last two stops.
Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated connected with Music City Bowl president Scott Ramsey and it’s clear the Irish are wanted in Nashville.
“We’ll want to be in the drawing and we’ve got a lot of interest,” Ramsey told Sampson. “Hopefully there’s interest from Notre Dame that we’re a place the team, players and administration want to go.”
The ACC/ND share one spot with the Big Ten in this bowl while the SEC has the other. And while a January 2nd date gives Notre Dame the opportunity to get 15 practices in—essentially an additional spring practice for a young roster that needs all the work it can get—this might not be a draw that the Irish will win.
In Ramsey’s comments to Irish Illustrated, the Music City Bowl president disclosed a tiebreaker of sorts that his bowl has over a team both bowls want. It sounds as if they’d utilize that tiebreaker if necessary.
Still, a lot of pieces still need to move on the chessboard, with the final fates of Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State still up for grabs. So ending up in Jacksonville might pit the Irish against a tough opponent, but could better the program in the long term.
El Paso, Texas
Brian Kelly won his first bowl game as a Notre Dame coach in El Paso, drilling the Miami Hurricanes on a wintry day in Texas, burying the Canes early as the Irish surged to the finish of Kelly’s first season.
A return to El Paso might not be ideal for the Irish, but it would be music to the ears of a bowl that sold out its tickets within 24 hours the last time Notre Dame showed up. Unlike the other Tier I bowl games with ACC tie-ins, this one would match the Irish up with a Pac-12 opponent.
Having already played Arizona State and USC, that could make a matchup with Utah possible. It’d be another callback to Kelly’s season one, when the Irish’s 28-3 home victory over Utah was the lynchpin for Notre Dame’s turnaround.
Bronx, New York
Notre Dame just ended the 2013 season with a victory in Yankee Stadium, so a return to the house of Steinbrenner isn’t ideal. But the matchup could be, with a potential battle against a Big Ten program like Penn State more than a little intriguing, especially with Kelly’s coaching staff plucking Brandon Wimbush and Josh Barajas from James Franklin.
The product on the field last year was pretty miserable — mostly because of the quality of the actual field, with the turf frozen and slippery and coming up in clumps.
Selling a fanbase on Christmas in New York for a bowl game is doable. But selling them twice on that same idea? It’s the kind of marketing that might only be possible by the Yankees.