What sounds more absurd, the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl or the Camping World Bowl? What will get more attention, leading into Oregon vs. Wisconsin or preceding the College Football Playoff? What matchup is more stereotypically insulting, facing Rutgers or Iowa State?
It’s all about perspective, and when realizing Notre Dame once played in a bowl game named not for an aggressive amphibian but for televised obstacle courses, going to play in a game sponsored by an outdoors retailer sounds downright practical.
There is no way to say with certainty where the Irish would have gotten higher television ratings, but it seems a strong bet playing immediately before the two biggest games of the year will draw more eyeballs than playing before the Rose Bowl, a time a not insignificant number reserve for watching the Rose Bowl Parade.
And facing a preseason Big 12 contender that “could easily be 11-1”, to use Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s description, is unquestionably more intriguing than that 2013 excuse of a Pinstripe Bowl when Irish independence actually did factor into the struggle to find a postseason home.
Notre Dame heading to the Camping World Bowl is in no way an insult, a waste of time or a message from the Playoff selection committee. None of those complaints hold any merit and furthering them is an insult to reasonable thought.
The committee had no hand in where the Irish went. Finishing No. 15 in those final rankings left Notre Dame five spots away from the Cotton Bowl this year and three spots in a typical year. This was not about the Irish failing to climb while finishing the season on a five-game winning streak; it was about a Playoff-era high 13 Power Five teams finishing with two or fewer losses. In three of the previous five seasons, that number did not break eight.
The committee did not “pick” Virginia or Memphis over Notre Dame, for the Orange or the Cotton Bowls, respectively. Contracts selected the Cavaliers and the Tigers, one going back 15 years and the other tying to the creation of the College Football Playoff. And for the last time, there was never a stipulation that if no second ACC team (in addition to Clemson) ended the season ranked, the Orange Bowl and/or the committee could get creative. That mistake was outright discredited at a few turns.
Furthermore, the Irish did not miss out on the Orange Bowl because a better contract was not negotiated when becoming a piece of the ACC bowl equation. With both the Fiesta and the Peach Bowls hosting Playoff semifinals, this season became an oddity, and it still may have been beneficial for Notre Dame to be independent.
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Imagine for a moment there had not been an influx of top-tier teams this season and the Irish were ranked No. 10 at the moment. As contracts currently stand, they would be headed back to the Cotton Bowl to face Memphis and would receive approximately $4.25 million to do so, that entire amount staying in South Bend.
If the pseudo-ACC membership roped Notre Dame into the Orange Bowl contract, theoretically superseding Virginia, then the $28 million payout from the Orange Bowl would go into the conference coffers to be distributed equally among 16 teams. Even when including all bowl payouts, the split would be less than that Cotton Bowl possibility. An at-large New Year’s Six check is preferable to sliding into the Orange Bowl, and rarely will the Irish be both better than the second-best ACC team and not in one of those at-large sports, the only situation in which a change in the pseudo-membership would be preferable, albeit the one at hand in 2019
This week’s complaining and whining are not so much annoying as they are unfounded. Nothing argued thus far has been opinion, but rather all facts.
If anything, perhaps Iowa State (7-5) is not the most tantalizing of opponents, but it has shown a high level of competitiveness this season, losing only once by more than a touchdown. The same compliment cannot be paid to Texas, also finishing 7-5, no matter how many would rather Notre Dame play a historical but scuffling team than a program trending upward under Matt Campbell.
“Explosive on offense,” Kelly said of the Cyclones on Sunday. “I think they set a school record for points and touchdowns and total offense this year. We know what we’re getting. Explosive offenses in the Big 12, really solid defensively, physical football team, well-coached. Matt Campbell is an outstanding football coach.
“It’s going to be a good football team we’re playing.”
The Irish will play a good football team in a time slot with the country’s attention. Meanwhile, No. 11 Utah was scuttled to the last game on New Year’s Eve against the Longhorns; No. 12 Auburn precedes the Rose Bowl by facing No. 18 Minnesota; Miami is playing Louisiana Tech the day after Christmas in Shreveport, Miss.
With that perspective, Notre Dame’s berth in the Camping World Bowl looks pretty good.