Bowled over by Notre Dame's postseason options? Here are the ABCs of the New Year's Six

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

We’ve come to accept that math is not one of college football’s greatest strengths.

So we get that the Big 12 comprises 10 teams, and the Big Ten comprises 14, yet the Pac-12 actually has 12 and changed its name from the Pac-8 and Pac-10 when its membership numbers changed.

The problem with the New Year’s Six bowl concept, though, isn’t the “Six” part. It’s the “New Year’s” part.

This bowl season, for instance, the Cotton Bowl is set for Dec. 29 and the Orange Bowl for Dec. 30. That’s in large part because those two New Year’s Six games want to avoid competing with NFL games, with Sunday happening to fall on Dec. 31 this season.

So New Year’s-ish Six?

How Notre Dame’s CFP eighth-ranked football team fits into this picture can be more confusing than both college football’s math problems and its semantics shortcomings.

Here’s what you need to know: If Notre Dame (9-2) becomes the first Irish team to win at Stanford (8-3) Saturday night since its 3-9 Charlie Weis-coached team did so in 2007, ND will land somewhere in the New Year’s Six for its postseason matchup.

If the Irish lose at Palo Alto, Calif., Saturday night (8 EST; ABC-TV), they’ll slide into the ACC’s Bowl hierarchy and land in Orlando, Fla. There, they’d play in either the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 or the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28.

What is Camping World, you ask? It’s an American corporation specializing in selling recreational vehicles, recreational vehicle parts and recreational vehicle service. They also sell supplies for camping. The company has its headquarters in Lincolnshire, Ill. Apparently, marketing s’mores aren’t part of the company’s business plan.

With that out of the way, here are the ABCs of the CFP (College Football Playoff):

• The New Year’s Six: Alphabetically, they’re the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose and Sugar bowls. Two of those six serves as semifinal sites for the College Football Playoff each year. The other four are well-paying and prestigious consolation prizes.

• Where and why the process gets twisted: The semifinal sites rotate in three-year cycles. With this being year four, we’re back to the 2014 configuration of the Sugar (Jan. 1 in New Orleans) and Rose (Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.) serving as semifinal sites.

Because three of the six bowls have conference tie-ins and three do not, it creates non-uniformity in the process from year to year. This season, there are more at-large spots, for instance, than in the previous two years.

• Can Notre Dame still get into the four-team playoff? Short of the selection committee imbibing in too much eggnog? Very, very unlikely.

Strength of schedule is on Notre Dame’s side. Just about everything else is not.

Here are the schedule ranks (via the Fremeau rankings) of the current CFP Top Ten teams: 1. Alabama (51st), 2. Miami (85th), 3. Clemson (34th), 4. Oklahoma (20th), 5. Wisconsin (93rd), 6. Auburn (6th), 7. Georgia (28th), 8. Notre Dame (7th), Ohio State (37th), Penn State (58th).

There are highly unlikely doomsday scenarios that could coax the Irish into the top four, but you’re talking upsets like Georgia Tech over Georgia, South Carolina over Clemson, Wisconsin losing to Minnesota, etc., having to be included in that formula.

• If ND isn’t in the playoff but in the New Year’s Six, where does it land? The Cotton and Orange are the most likely scenarios, but all four non-semifinals are technically in play.

Among the Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Peach, the Orange is the only one with conference tie-ins.

It matches the ACC champ (or highest-ranked ACC team not in the playoff) against the highest-ranked non-playoff qualifier among the SEC, the Big Ten and Notre Dame. If that scenario played out with today's current CFB rankings, it would be No. 25 Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 Wisconsin.

But since the Clemson-Miami loser in the ACC title game could very well fall out of the top four, that’s more likely to ultimately be the ACC rep in the Orange Bowl. If Notre Dame is No. 5 in the final rankings, the Irish would be the opponent.

If there’s a potential Miami-ND rematch, though, the committee has the power to avoid that rematch by reassigning Notre Dame.

If the Irish are No. 6, their placement in the Orange Bowl depends on whether there’s an SEC or Big Ten team sitting at No. 5, and so on at No. 7, etc.

Once the Orange Bowl is settled, the committee places the other six at-large spots based on a combination of rankings and displaced champions. To the latter point, if Stanford won the Pac-12 at 9-4, it would still end up somewhere in the Fiesta-Peach-Cotton lineup, because it can’t play in the Rose Bowl this year, since it’s a semifinal.

In the previous three years, the committee has pretty much paired the two highest-ranked available teams in one matchup, then moved to the next two highest-ranked available teams. The exception was 2014, when they separated No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU, since they were from the same conference.

Geography and recent appearances in specific bowls also come into play for the committee, and that’s one reason why the Fiesta is such a long shot for Notre Dame. That, and the fact that a Pac-12 champion (USC, Stanford or Washington State) is likely to be anchored there.

Georgia is a strong possibility for the Peach if it can’t move back into the top four. And thus that potential rematch pretty much pushes the Irish to the Cotton if the Orange is out of play.

• Could the Irish be paired with the Group of Five representative? The committee has been consistent in assigning the Group of Five team (Central Florida is the leading candidate this season) a pairing with the lowest-ranked at-large team.

In 2014, that was No. 10 Arizona getting No. 20 Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2015, No. 9 Florida State got No. 18 Houston in the Peach Bowl, and last season No. 8 Wisconsin drew No. 15 Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl.

Given that ND with a win over Stanford would likely stand no lower than seventh, a Group of Five opponent is likely not in play.

• Will Irish head coach Brian Kelly have his offense throw the ball too much in the bowl game? Ugh.

Notre Dame's Troy Pride Jr. (18) and Nyles Morgan (5) head up the Notre Dame Stadium tunnel following ND's 24-17 win over Navy last Saturday. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)