Irish pique interest of bowls despite team's record

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Despite some struggles down the stretch, Notre Dame is still drawing interest from the Cotton, Gator and Sun bowls heading into its final two games.

"The great thing about the system the way it is now is you can really afford to wait until the whole season is over before making a decision," Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker said.

The Irish (6-4) are 19½-point favorites against Syracuse (2-8) on Saturday and will be heavy underdogs a week later against sixth-ranked USC (9-1). And although neither the Cotton Bowl nor the Gator Bowl has ever awarded a berth to a five-loss team, the presidents of both bowls said a loss to the Trojans wouldn't necessarily eliminate the Irish from consideration.

"I don't think we necessarily look just at the records," Baker said. "We're going to look at the matchup and the history that we have with the programs that we're considering. That's not a policy that we don't take a 7-5 team, that's just the way that it's happened."

The Cotton Bowl usually pits a Big 12 team vs. a Southeastern Conference team. But the Cotton Bowl can select Notre Dame over an SEC team once in the next two years.

Notre Dame has played in the Cotton Bowl seven times, including winning the 1977 national championship there by upsetting top-rated Texas 38-10. At the end of the 1993 season, the Irish beat Texas A&M 24-21, their last bowl victory.

Since then, they have lost an NCAA-record nine straight bowl games.

At 8-4, fresh off a win over USC, Notre Dame would be at the top of the Gator Bowls' wish list, president Rick Catlett said. At 7-5, the Gator Bowl would likely have to chose between taking either Notre Dame, Nebraska (7-4) or No. 12 Oklahoma State (9-2), which still must face No. 5 Oklahoma (9-1).

"At 7-5, they're still Notre Dame. We've never taken a five-loss team in our history, so there would be a lot of discussion," Catlett said. "But I think with a victory over Syracuse this week Notre Dame is still very high on our list."

If the Gator Bowl passes on Notre Dame, Bernie Olivas, executive director of the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, is ready to invite the Irish even if they lose their last two games.

"Notre Dame is coveted by everybody, including by us," he said. "We'd probably be excited by a 6-6 Notre Dame team. El Paso is like 80 percent Catholic, 80 percent Hispanic, and you wouldn't believe how many calls we're getting here: 'Is Notre Dame coming? Is Notre Dame coming?"

The only possible glitch there would be if the Gator Bowl takes an ACC team, the Sun Bowl must take a Big 12 team. If that happens, the Irish would have to wait and see what bowls go unfilled by conference affiliation before determining what their bowl options would be. But Catlett said if the Gator Bowl doesn't invite the Irish, it likely will invite a Big 12 team, leaving the Sun Bowl free to invite the Irish.