A discussion of possible bowl games for the Fighting Irish

With the football regular season now concluded, the Fighting Irish look ahead to bowl season. Unlike last season, in which Notre Dame seemed to be caught between a rock and a hard place, the Irish have a bevy of landing places—the contract that Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick signed with the Atlantic Coast Conference provides Notre Dame access to the ACC bowl tiers.

ACC bowl games are divided into four tiers.  The first tier includes the College Football Playoff bowls and the New Year’s Day Bowls, the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the Citrus Bowl.  The second is an upper tier that consists of the Gator Bowl, the Music City Bowl, the Belk Bowl, the Pinstripe Bowl, and the Sun Bowl.  These are then split into two parts, those with optional Big Ten tie-ins and those without.  The Gator Bowl and the Music City Bowl could choose a Big Ten team over an ACC/Notre Dame team if the Big Ten team seemed like a more attractive option.  The final tier consists of the Independence Bowl, the Military Bowl, the Quick Lane Bowl, and the BITCOIN Bowl.

Florida State will likely be headed to the College Football Playoff, so the team they play in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game, Georgia Tech, will likely be headed to the Orange Bowl.  After those two teams, there are three teams at 9-3, Clemson, Louisville, and Duke.  Clemson carries the most weight and would travel well in Orlando, so they will take the Russell Athletic Bowl bid.  As the Citrus Bowl is only a conditional bid which is triggered when the ACC faces a Big Ten team in the Orange Bowl, it is not an option for an ACC team this cycle.

In the next tier are the other 9-3 teams, Louisville and Duke, as well as three teams at 7-5, Boston College, NC State, and Notre Dame.  Faced with either a 7-5 Big Ten team or a 9-3 ACC team, the Gator and Music City Bowls will likely take the ACC.  Louisville will travel to the Gator Bowl and Duke to the Music City Bowl.  That leaves the other three teams with the Belk, Pinstripe, and Sun Bowls.  The Pinstripe would probably not mind taking Notre Dame for another year, but at this point in the process Notre Dame will have several options.  They will likely go to the Belk Bowl (many of the players are from the Carolinas where the bowl will be held) as the team has no desire to potentially match up with Southern California or Arizona State again at the Sun Bowl.

Notre Dame will likely face a middle-tier SEC team in the Belk Bowl.  With Alabama in the College Football Playoff, Mississippi State or Missouri headed to a New Year’s Day Bowl, and the other headed to the Capital One Bowl there is not much guesswork left.  Georgia will play Louisville in the Gator Bowl, and Ole Miss will play in the Outback Bowl.  The Music City Bowl will take Auburn to play Duke and LSU will head to the Texas Bowl.  Now things get a little fuzzy.  The Belk Bowl will get to choose between 7-5 Texas A&M and 6-6 Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Arkansas.  With Florida losing their head coach, they can be removed from the equation.  South Carolina would be an interesting matchup and carry a home team crowd.  Tennessee, however, may be the safe bet.  Both programs carry a weight to them and it would be quite the marquee matchup.

So come December 30, turn on your televisions, grab the chips and dip, and settle in to watch Notre Dame take on Tennessee for the ninth time.  It will be the first time since 2005 and the Irish would enter the series on a two game win streak against Tennessee.  Personally, I could not hope for a better matchup.


John McMackin is a junior studying history and theology.  He hails from the southern metropolis of Ocean Springs, Mississippi and has a friendly rivalry with a few Tennessee fans.  To dispute his logic, contact him at jmcmack1@nd.edu.