Notre Dame has three games left, including a regular-season finale at a Stanford team that is currently No. 5 in the BCS standings. The Irish are down many men as they enter their 10th game of the season on Saturday at Pitt. But they have just two losses. And if they still have two losses one month from now, they figure to find themselves in a BCS bowl for the second straight season.
As our friend Pete Sampson notes, every BCS conference team that went at least 10-2 in the last five years finished in the top 14 of the BCS standings, save for Louisville last year. (The Cardinals finished No. 21.)
Notre Dame is guaranteed a BCS bowl spot if it finishes in the top 8, which seems highly unlikely at this point. But the top 14 is required for at-large selection to a BCS bowl game, even if not every top-14 team ends up getting selected (though many cases are teams that finished worse than second in their own conference and therefore were not eligible).
I exchanged emails with our BCS guru Brad Edwards to see what the path looks like for Notre Dame in the event that it wins its next three games.
"With games against BYU and Stanford, I can’t see any way for Notre Dame to win out and not reach the top 14 of the final BCS standings," Edwards said. "I’m not really worried about Wisconsin reaching the top 14, and it sits one spot behind ND and has much less left on the schedule."
And a top-14 Notre Dame team -- or, really, any Notre Dame team -- is awfully attractive to bowl executives, meaning that winning out is probably all that it will take for the Irish to reach a BCS bowl game. Edwards has written as much, calling the Irish first in line for the at-large spot in the Discover Orange Bowl, which has the first at-large selection after all of the other conferences fill their commitments. If Notre Dame does not qualify, Edwards sees the Orange Bowl likely turning to the Big Ten for its at-large spot.
I tweeted this Sunday night, and Edwards agrees: If Ohio State runs the regular-season table but loses the Big Ten title game, then the one-loss Buckeyes could be a huge roadblock for the Irish's BCS bowl hopes. And that is assuming that Fresno State or Northern Illinois -- which are currently Nos. 16 and 18, respectively, and ahead of all American Athletic Conference teams -- win out and therefore one of them (the highest ranked) finishes in the top 16 and ahead of the American Athletic Conference champion, meaning it would automatically clinch a BCS bowl berth.
So a scenario of those two, plus an Alabama-Oregon national title game, would likely result in the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl replacing those from the SEC and Pac-12, respectively, to replace the Crimson Tide and Ducks, while the American winner and Fresno State or Northern Illinois would take up two of the remaining open spots.
The ACC champion would be in the Orange Bowl — which, again, has the first pick of the available at-large teams.
"The Orange has to pick an opponent for its ACC team, and if Ohio State were to lose in the Big Ten title game and be in the at-large pool, I can see the Orange taking OSU instead of ND," Edwards said. "That’s really the only way I can think of. Clemson isn’t a threat, because the Orange won’t pick Clemson to play Florida State.
"So, it’s the combination of a non-AQ team getting guaranteed BCS entry and Ohio State losing the Big Ten title game that would probably shut Notre Dame out of a BCS berth with a 10-2 record."
So the odds are in Notre Dame's favor if the hamstrung Irish can surprise all and win their final three games. Should that happen, perhaps we'll see a few folks make the trek from South Bend, Ind., to Indianapolis on Dec. 7 to cheer for Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.