Notre Dame football: Irish take long road to go bowling in New York
SOUTH BEND -- In the end, Notre Dame’s football team will land exactly where all the bowl projections had them in the first place, the most logical destination and the path of least resistance.
The Irish just took a convoluted and twisted route to get there.
After flirting for most of this week with now-coachless Boise State (8-4) for a date in either San Di-ego or Honolulu, the Irish will go on a blind date of sorts in New York.
On Dec. 28, the Irish (8-4) will end their season in Yankee Stadium playing most likely either Houston (8-4) or Rutgers (5-6) from the American Athletic Conference at the fourth New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
The Scarlet Knights, losers of five of their past six games, are believed to have the inside track, but they must dis-patch South Florida (2-9) Saturday night in Piscataway, N.J., to stay in the conversation. There’s reportedly a sce-nario in play in which the bowl could buy out the poor-traveling, poor-drawing Cougars (24,256 average home at-tendance) for an at-large team if Rutgers loses and misses bowl eligibility.
CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler was the first to report ND had accepted the bid. An official announcement could come as early as Saturday.
The Irish have played future Big Ten member Rutgers four times, most recently in 2002. The closest margin of those four ND wins has been 28 points. Houston and the Irish have met just once, in the 1979 Cotton Bowl, better known as “The Chicken Soup Game.” QB Joe Montana, playing with the flu, rallied the Irish from a 34-12, fourth-quarter deficit in a rare ice storm in Dallas.
It won’t be unseasonable if the Irish play in an ice storm on this bowl trip, though Pinstripe Bowl executive direc-tor Mark Holtzman played down the possibility earlier this week.
“Two years ago, it was 50 degrees and sunny on game day,” he told the Tribune. “Last year it was about 40. In general it’s much colder in the Midwest. We don’t have the biting cold. We have more like the schmutzy stuff.”
Honolulu and San Diego don’t even have that, though it was a less-than-tropical 59 in San Diego when rumors that the Pinstripe had reversed momentum and secured the Irish spilled into reality.
The Irish players had expressed an interest in playing in warm weather, and head coach Brian Kelly acknowl-edged getting to California for a postseason game made sense, since there is no ACC-affiliated bowl west of El Paso in the new bowl lineup the Irish become a part of next year through 2019.
The problem was Notre Dame’s unimpeded/exam-friendly options consisted of Detroit (Little Ceasars Bowl), Shreveport, La. (AdvoCare V100), Heart of Dallas (Dallas) and New York.
Army’s failure to meet the required six wins for bowl eligibility eliminated them from a date with a Mountain West Conference team in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 26 in San Diego, but that bowl has a contingency contract with the Mid-American Conference.
And for Notre Dame to buy its way in to the low-paying bowl ($500,000), someone would have to find a home for the displaced MAC team. A loss by Northern Illinois to Bowling Green Friday night in the MAC Championship Game, which happened later Friday night, would further complicate ND’s road to San Diego.
The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24, did talk to Notre Dame about landing there, but logistics were muddled by having to relocate a Conference USA team, which, like the Mountain West, had more teams than bowl slots al-ready.
It became a three-bowl tug-of-war for the Irish, showing off the branding and draw power of Notre Dame, with New York surging late to land Notre Dame.
“The relationship goes back 75 years,” Holtzman said, “and some of the greatest games Notre Dame has ever played happened in Yankee Stadium. New York during Christmas is a special place. We’d be honored and thrilled to have them.”
The attendance record for new Yankee Stadium is 54,251, set in 2010 when the Irish played Army there in a Shamrock Series matchup during the regular season. None of the previous three Pinstripe Bowls have cleared 40,000 in attendance.
There are a lot of pluses from an ND standpoint. It is the highest-paying bowl ($1.8 million) among its options. The Irish can get in more pre-bowl practices than with either the Hawaii or Poinsettia bowls, which theoretically benefit next year’s team as well.
There’s also a chance soon-to-be reinstated quarterback Everett Golson can get in a few sessions with the Irish. He becomes eligible to practice on campus on the day fall-semester exams end, Dec. 20. He cannot practice at the bowl site or travel with the team to the bowl game.