Marcus Freeman will make his head-coaching debut against No. 9 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 at 1 ET on ESPN after Notre Dame finished the regular season ranked No. 5, one notch below the College Football Playoff.
After a chaotic week for the Irish — Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure for LSU feeling more like it occurred six months ago than six days — preparing for a New Year’s Six bowl game may bring them some sense of normalcy. In his first address to the team as head coach, after arriving at Notre Dame fewer than 11 months ago, Freeman made it clear he intends to treat this bowl game as an extension of the 2021 season and not as a step into the future.
“We owe it to the seniors,” he said Friday morning. “This isn’t about the future. This isn’t about next year, this isn’t about five years from now, this is about right now.
“It’s about finishing this season off the right way for these seniors. Everybody clear? I don’t care about anything else.”
Oklahoma State (11-2) lost Saturday to Baylor, a game in doubt until the final minute, and that initially gave the Irish (11-1) hopes of slipping into the Playoff. Instead, Alabama beating Georgia in the SEC championship game dashed Notre Dame’s chances.
The Cowboys were without star running back Jaylen Warren (1,134 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns), and their offense struggled to find any rhythm without him.
The defense was Oklahoma State’s greatest strength this season, holding opponents to 16.8 points per game, No. 7 in the country and just ahead of the Irish at No. 9 with 18.3 points per game.
The Cowboys give up 278.4 yards per game, No. 3 in the country, and 4.41 yards per play, No. 4. Notre Dame has already faced the Nos. 2 and 3 defenses in terms of yards per play, Wisconsin and Cincinnati, respectively.
Oklahoma State is No. 1 in the country with 54 sacks this season.
“It’s a great opportunity to win 12 games, to kind of right some of the wrongs of the past that we haven’t been so successful in these New Year’s Day bowls,” Freeman said to ESPN on Sunday. “It’ll be a motivated team and a motivated coaching staff.”