Orlando is in Notre Dame's future, and maybe VanGorder, too

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

It’s a twisted story of déjà vu for the Notre Dame football program, with a convoluted-but-happy ending.

The last time Notre Dame played a football game in what is now dubbed as Camping World Stadium, the Irish blew a 14-point, third-quarter lead; threw two interceptions in the end zone and then waded into an offseason teeming with disappointment, which included:

The transfer of freshman All-America defensive end Aaron Lynch; a run of 11th-hour recruiting heartache with promising Florida State transfer Jordan Prestwood and touted cornerback early enrollee Tee Shepard both falling through academic trapdoors; the arrest, suspension and demotion of incumbent starting QB Tommy Rees; and seven players projected in the two-deeps missing large chunks of or the entire ensuing season …

And yet Notre Dame played for the national championship as the nation’s No. 1 team 374 days after its 18-14 come-from-ahead loss to Florida State, Dec. 29, 2011, in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.

The Irish (9-3) are headed back to Orlando for the holidays, though their opponent and exact postseason playing date won’t be firmed up until Sunday in the 3-3:30 p.m. (EST) time frame, roughly three hours after the College Football Playoff pairings are revealed.

Ultimately, the Irish will be seeking their first win in the state of Florida, postseason or otherwise, since 2002.

In the meantime, here are the frequently asked questions and corresponding answers regarding Notre Dame’s latest postseason venture:

• What exactly are Notre Dame’s postseason options? With the Irish ranked 15th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the remaining options are all in Orlando at Camping World Stadium, which actually stages three bowl games.

The one ND will not end up in is the AutoNation Cure Bowl on Dec, 16 that matches teams from the American Athletic and Sun Belt conferences.

The two games in play are the Overton’s Citrus Bowl, at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1 (ABC-TV); and the Camping World Bowl, at 5:15 p.m. on Dec. 28 (ESPN).

• Wait, isn’t the Camping World Bowl in Shreveport, La.? Well, the Camping World Independence Bowl WAS in Shreveport, but it has evolved into the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl this bowl season, so Notre Dame will not being playing in Shreveport.

• Is that a good thing? C’mon.

• Does Alabama have anything to do with which of the Orlando bowls Notre Dame ends up playing? Kinda, sorta. A berth by an ACC team or Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl hinges on the Orange Bowl matchup.

If that matchup pairs the ACC vs. the Big Ten, then the Citrus is open to ND (and the ACC). If the Orange matchup is ACC vs. SEC, then the Citrus berth goes to a Big Ten team, and ND defaults into the Camping World Bowl.

The Orange will get the highest ranked non-playoff team from the SEC and Big Ten to pair with the ACC. Currently, that team is No. 5 Alabama, which would mean no Citrus Bowl for ND.

However, there are plenty of scenarios in which Alabama moves into the playoff field Sunday or gets jumped by say, Ohio State, in the final CFB rankings, with both teams not making the playoff.

• Are the Camping World Bowl and the Champ Sports Bowl actually the same thing? In a sense, yes. This particular bowl started in Miami Gardens, Fla., in 1990 as the Blockbuster Bowl. It evolved into the Carquest Bowl, then MicronPC Bowl and then MicroPC.com Bowl.

It then relocated in Orlando as the Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl, then morphed into the Mazda Tangerine Bowl, Champ Sports Bowl, Russell Athletic Bowl and finally Camping World Bowl this season.

Notre Dame’s 2011 game with FSU is the top-drawing among those incarnations staged in Orlando (68,305), with the next closest crowd 56,747.

• Who are Notre Dame’s potential opponents in the Citrus and Camping World bowls? For the Citrus, it would be an SEC team. For the Camping World Bowl, a team from the Big 12.

Neither bowl has to adhere strictly to the league standings. So the potential Citrus pairings would be CFP No. 17 LSU (9-3), No. 23 Mississippi State (8-4) or South Carolina (8-4).

The Camping World Bowl purports to be looking at six options: No. 19 Oklahoma State (9-3), three 7-5 teams (Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas State) and two 6-6 teams (Texas and Texas Tech).

In the Big 12 scenario, two factors will influence that pool of teams indirectly: Whether TCU plays in a New Year’s Six bowl, and the fact the Alamo Bowl gets its pick of non-New Year’s Six Big 12 teams before the Camping World committee gets it shot.

Most likely the Camping World Bowl rep from the Big 12 will be Oklahoma State, Iowa State or West Virginia.

• What’s the best matchup for the Irish? It depends if you want to play to your strengths or test if you’ve fixed your weaknesses.

Of the six most likely SEC/Big 12 opponents, the total offense national rankings are as follows: Oklahoma State (2), West Virginia (15), Mississippi State (49), LSU (54), Iowa State (79) and South Carolina (107).

The top offense the Irish saw during the regular season was USC (13).

In total defense, the order is Mississippi State (10), LSU (14), Iowa State (46), South Carolina (51), Oklahoma State (75) and West Virginia (110).

The Irish faced two defenses ranked higher than Mississippi State’s during the regular season — Georgia (4) and Michigan State (9).

• Wait, didn’t deposed Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder end up at Oklahoma State? Yep, he’s a defensive analyst there.

• Wouldn’t that be amusing if they — VanGorder and ND head coach Brian Kelly — happened to face each other? Better than Disney World.

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ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown (6) celebrates a touchdown with teammate Chase Claypool (83) during the Notre Dame-Stanford NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN