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'They satisfy any of your needs'

Notre Dame, even at 10-2, still attractive to BCS executives

Posted: Tuesday November 12, 2002 5:07 PM
Updated: Wednesday November 13, 2002 11:53 AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Notre Dame's turnaround season under first-year coach Tyrone Willingham has bowl executives excited.

Even aftera loss to Boston College and a poor showing against Navy, Bowl Championship Series officials say the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish remain highly desirable.

"I think either a 10-2 or an 11-1 Notre Dame team is going to be attractive for some BCS bowl," said Mitch Dorger, chief executive officer of the Tournament of Roses, which puts on the Rose Bowl.

"If they lose to Rutgers, they're not that attractive. But I don't think they hurt themselves too bad if they lose to USC."

If the Irish (9-1) beat Rutgers (1-8) and No. 8 Southern California (7-2) they are a virtual lock for a BCS berth. Notre Dame is ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings, less than a half-point behind Georgia. A clause in the BCS rules guarantees the Irish an at-large berth if they finish in the top six.

A loss to Southern Cal would complicate Notre Dame's bowl prospects, especially when considering all the other possible upsets.

"Our heads are just swimming here because everybody comes up with a new scenario and you say, 'Oh, I never thought of that,"' said Nancy Atkinson, Rose Bowl sports information director.

Officials with the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Gator and Cotton bowls agree, though, that the Irish are appealing because of their large fan base and national audience, which translates into traveling fans and high TV ratings.

"Notre Dame is always an attractive possibility," said Paul Hoolahan, executive director of the Sugar Bowl. "In almost all scenarios you can find, they satisfy any of your needs."

The only certainty is that the No. 1 team in the final BCS standings will play No. 2 in the Fiesta Bowl. Notre Dame will need a lot of help to qualify for that game.

There are two ways the Irish could get into the Rose Bowl for the first time in 78 years. If either Ohio State or Washington State qualify for the Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame could replace them.

But if Ohio State remains at No. 1 in the BCS standings, it might be hard for the Rose Bowl to pass over sixth-ranked Iowa (10-1) in favor of the Irish considering the bowl's long-standing relationship with the Big 10. Dorger said it would be "difficult -- not impossible."

But if Notre Dame beats USC, Ohio State losses and Washington State ends up in the Fiesta Bowl, the Irish could go to the Rose Bowl in place of Washington State.

Keith Tribble, Orange Bowl executive director, said his committee is following the Irish closely.

"They have the national appeal which, obviously, is very important to us," Tribble said.

The Sugar Bowl has to wait and see what the other bowls do. If the Orange Bowl picks Notre Dame as the at-large team, they could send the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, probably Florida State, to the Sugar Bowl to face the Southeastern Conference champion. Notre Dame could then face Oklahoma in the Orange.

If the Irish don't qualify for the BCS, the next option is the Gator Bowl. Rick Catlett, president of the Gator Bowl Association, said his committee would love to see the Irish in Jacksonville -- no matter what happens.

"Executive directors of bowl games want to have Notre Dame play in their bowl game," he said.

Willingham admits he's thought some about the bowl possibilities, but said there are too many games left to try to figure it all out.

"Obviously, my physical education degree doesn't qualify me for that. I'll leave that to others to decipher," he said.


 
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