SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Some BCS officials are almost as giddy about the prospect of Notre Dame playing in one of their bowl games as Fighting Irish fans are.
“I tend to think right now, there’s a lot to be played, but I don’t see how they could avoid being in a BCS game somewhere,” Fiesta Bowl executive director Robert Shelton said. “They have four games left. Anything can happen, but they’re looking so strong. Even if they only win two of those, certainly if they win three or four, they will be in a BCS game.”
The fourth-ranked Fighting Irish (8-0) are third in the BCS standings heading into their game against Pittsburgh (4-4) on Saturday, where they are 16.5-point favorites. They likely will be favored against Boston College (2-6) and Wake Forest (4-4) before the season finale at Southern California (6-2).
Officials with the Fiesta, Rose, Orange and Sugar bowls all say they will consider the Irish under the right circumstances, primarily that they meet the minimum requirements of nine victories and being among the top 14 teams in the final BCS standings. Notre Dame would prefer not being an at-large team, hoping instead to finish in the top two and earn a shot at the school’s first national championship since 1988 in the BCS title game Jan. 7 in Miami.
Irish players say it would be hard to believe they wouldn’t get a shot if they remain undefeated. If it happens, though, they say they would have to accept it.
“I can’t do anything about it,” linebacker Carlo Calabrese said. “I just have to go out and perform in whatever bowl game we’re in.”
Coach Brian Kelly said he’s not paying attention to all the BCS possibilities, saying he’s leaving that to others. Kelly, who narrowly missed qualifying for the national championship game while at Cincinnati in 2009, said he doesn’t plan to try to lobby for the Irish.
“I got out of politics once. I’m not getting back in it,” he said.
Shelton made it clear that the Fiesta Bowl, where the Irish played after the 2000 and 2005 seasons, would love to host them again.
“There are a number of schools that have national followings, but none of them really to the extent of Notre Dame. There are a lot of Notre Dame lovers here in the valley and probably some of those who would vote against Notre Dame, too. But that shows you have a national brand,” he said.
Kevin Ash, chief administrative officer of the Rose Bowl, said its first choice is always to pit a Big Ten team against a Pac-12 team. But he said if Oregon ends up going to the national championship game and another Pac-12 team isn’t eligible, the Irish would be an attractive choice in part because of its history. Knute Rockne guided a Notre Dame squad that featured the Four Horsemen to a 27-10 victory over Pop Warner and Stanford in 1925, the only bowl game the Irish played in until 1970.
“There’s a lot of lore for the Rose Bowl game and Notre Dame is part of that. So they’re already part of our family. They’re a very celebrated team with a large fan following and they’re playing great football again,” Ash said.
Sugar Bowl spokesman John Sudsbury wasn’t quite as effusive, but said the bowl committee would “look very close at them” if Notre Dame is eligible. Sudbury said a team with a storied past like Notre Dame’s wouldn’t necessarily have an advantage.
“Sometimes we like a team that is making a new name for itself or hasn’t been in our bowl before,” Sudsbury said. “It can help them. It’s definitely a factor that we look at. But I’m not saying that would give them weight over somebody that doesn’t have the same history.”
Orange Bowl spokesman Larry Wahl said because his bowl has the last pick this year he doesn’t believe the Irish would still be available. Asked whether he thought a two-loss Notre Dame team could be attractive, Wahl said: “Who knows? There could be a lot of two-loss teams.”
“There’s so much football that’s yet to be played that you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.