Forget your conference rivalries for a week. No matter your allegiance, if you're a fan of Big East football, you should root for Pittsburgh this weekend at Notre Dame.
Many of you would already do that because of the strong feelings the Irish inspire. But this is more about the importance of Pitt's game in the grand scheme of this year's Big East bowl picture.
As you probably know, Notre Dame can take the Big East's slot in the Champs Sports Bowl once out of every four years under the new deal that began this season. The Champs Sports Bowl is the No. 2 slot for the league, or the top landing spot behind the BCS.
Remember that the Gator and Sun Bowls had a similar arrangement where the Irish could have gone to one of those bowls twice in a four-year span instead of the Big East. It never happened because Notre Dame either made the BCS or finished with too poor a record to qualify for the postseason. The Champs Sports people know this as well, which is why they won't hesitate to grab the Irish and their national fan appeal at the first possible chance. And that's especially true this year, with the Big East underperforming as a whole and not presenting a whole lot of appetizing teams as possible bowl entrants.
So, basically, all Notre Dame has to do is finish at least 7-5 to take the Champs Sports spot. And that would mean that the Big East's second-best team would be bound for Charlotte and the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and only five teams overall would be guaranteed spots. If six teams qualify for the postseason, as they did last year, somebody would have to scramble for a spot. (Could you imagine, for example, the anguish of Syracuse fans if the Orange finished 7-5 but weren't guaranteed a bowl berth because of Notre Dame?)
The Irish are 2-3 this season. Here is their schedule after the Pitt game:
Navy (at the New Meadowlands)
Army (at Yankee Stadium)
Navy is always tricky and has beaten Notre Dame two of the past three years. But you can't count on the Irish falling to the Midshipmen again. The only two games that really look like potential losses are Utah and USC.
A Pitt win this week would make the Irish 2-4. Losing to the Utes and Trojans would mean 6-6, and Notre Dame wouldn't be eligible for the Champs Sports Bowl with that record, just as it didn't qualify for the Gator or Sun bowls the past two years with that same record.
A Panthers victory this week doesn't guarantee that the Irish won't go to the Champs Sports Bowl, but it makes that scenario a lot tougher to be realized. So if you're a fan of any other Big East team with bowl aspirations -- and who doesn't have them at this point? -- you now know for sure where to place your rooting interests for this weekend's game in South Bend.