Predicting Notre Dame’s 2023 bowl game
Thomas Zwiller | Friday, November 17, 2023
As Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman threw four straight incomplete passes late in the fourth quarter against Clemson, turning the ball over on downs, I stood on the Death Valley field, taking it all in.
It felt different from the Louisville loss — that defeat felt more shocking than anything. Early in the second quarter against Clemson, it already felt like Notre Dame’s sputtering offense just would not be able to catch up to the Tigers.
The loss gave a massive blow to Notre Dame’s season. The Irish fell to 7-3 as they went into their second bye week, a complete 180 from when they entered their first bye after shredding an imploding USC team.
The hopes of a New Year’s Six bowl game — much of what fans had been discussing during the first bye — were gone. Fans on Twitter began to lament the “wasted” season, with some even suggesting that the Irish should simply forfeit whatever bowl they were awarded.
If Notre Dame were to have finished in the top 10, there was a chance they could have made the Orange Bowl and faced a Big Ten team. The result did depend on how Louisville finished the season, but in all likelihood, being ranked in the top 10 would guarantee the Irish a New Year’s Six appearance.
Now, depending on which projection site you look at, the Irish will be awarded a much less glamorous bowl game. The Athletic predicted that the Irish would make the ReliaQuest Bowl, playing Tennessee. CBS has Notre Dame playing in the Pop-Tarts Bowl against Oklahoma State.
What would it take for the Irish to make the ReliaQuest Bowl? Or are they more likely to make the Pop-Tarts Bowl? Let’s find out.
The obvious starting point is Notre Dame and how the Irish finish the year. I am going to work with the assumption that the team finishes the regular season 9-3. Notre Dame is currently a 24.5-point favorite over Wake Forest and ESPN gives Stanford just a 4.8% chance to pull off the upset in the season finale.
Quite honestly, if Notre Dame lose to Wake Forest on Senior Day or to a 3-7 Stanford on the Pac-12 Network, they do not deserve the ReliaQuest Bowl. Just put them in the Gasparilla Bowl.
The CFP Race
I am projecting No. 3 Michigan to beat No. 2 Ohio State in its season finale and then defeat No. 16 Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. I think, realistically, that would put the Wolverines in the College Football Playoff. I’ll be curious if Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is allowed to coach in the Big Ten title game, should his team make it that far.
For the SEC, give me No. 1 Georgia. While the Bulldogs don’t yet look like last year’s team, they are rounding into form at the right time.
The ACC title game should come down to No. 4 Florida State and No. 10 Louisville. No. 20 North Carolina is still mathematically alive, but if Louisville wins out, they will meet the Seminoles at Bank of America Stadium. I would take Florida State every time in that game, but Louisville head coach Jeff Brohm can scheme up a plan that keeps the Cards in the game.
The Pac-12 and Big 12 are where things get interesting.
The Big 12 Championship Game should be a rematch between No. 7 Texas and No. 14 Oklahoma. However, there is a massive but. If Texas loses to Iowa State on Saturday, the Longhorns may miss out. Should Oklahoma and No. 23 Oklahoma State win out, they would make the Championship Game.
Right now, I am taking Texas. However, by just putting that sentence in print, I fear I just guaranteed that Texas will “Texas” against Iowa State and lose.
The Pac-12, to me, is No. 6 Oregon’s to lose. The Ducks should make the conference title game, with a road game against Arizona State and a home game against No. 11 Oregon State being all that stands in their way.
Although I am taking Oregon State this weekend, No. 5 Washington is the team likeliest to meet Oregon there. I like the Ducks in a rematch.
So, we have Georgia, Michigan, Florida State and Oregon in the CFP (sorry, Texas, I still think you are going to “Texas” against Iowa State). On the outside, looking in Texas, Washington and Alabama.
The New Year’s Six
Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs Oregon
Rose Bowl: Michigan vs Florida State
Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs SMU
Orange Bowl: Louisville vs Ohio State
Peach Bowl: Missouri vs Penn State
Cotton Bowl: Washington vs Alabama
I am less committed to those teams in those specific matchups. But those are the teams that I have making the NY6 if my proposed CFP scenario happened. The important thing is removing those teams from the pool of bowl-eligible squads.
Here’s what’s left
Notre Dame can qualify for any bowl game that is an ACC bowl or an at-large bid. So that leaves us with the ReliaQuest Bowl, the Sun Bowl, the Fenway Bowl, the Pop-Tarts Bowl and the Military Bowl.
While Notre Dame might wind up as eligible for the Military Bowl or Fenway Bowl, it seems like they would go to teams further down on the ACC board. In reality, there are only three possible spots for the Irish: the ReliaQuest Bowl, the Sun Bowl and the PopTarts Bowl.
This seems to be one of the more likely projections. Right now, The Athletic has this as where the Irish end up, taking on the No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers. My own Power Model would have No. 15 LSU with a better finish, meaning that the possible Brian Kelly-Notre Dame grudge match is alive and well.
This bowl would pit Notre Dame against a Pac-12 team and, based on my proposed scenario, I would guess that the Irish’s opponent would be No. 22 Utah. An interesting game because of the Andy Ludwig-to-Notre Dame storyline during the offseason.
An alternative team would be Oregon State, though that likely hinges on the Beavers upsetting either Oregon or Washington in the next two weeks.
I have a vested interest in the Irish making this bowl. Reason number one: I met a super friendly Pop-Tarts Bowl Committee representative at the Clemson game. We spent halftime talking and he gave me a pin with the Pop-Tarts logo. Reason number two is that the bowl game is in Orlando, which would be a perfect way to spend winter break.
The Irish would face the team that finishes third in the Big 12, likely either No. 21 Kansas State or Oklahoma State. Anything could happen down the stretch of the season, but right now, based on my power rankings, I would take Oklahoma State.
It might seem a little crazy, but Kansas State has No. 25 Kansas remaining and a home game against Iowa State. Oklahoma State has Houston and BYU left.
A Notre Dame-Oklahoma State matchup would give Marcus Freeman the opportunity to avenge the team’s 2022 Fiesta Bowl loss, his first ever game as a head coach.