If ESPN.com's self-titled way-too-early bowl projections are right, Notre Dame will go bowling in the warmth of Florida this coming winter.
Brett McMurphy projects a 2007 Sugar Bowl rematch, with Notre Dame playing LSU in the Taxslayer.com Bowl (formerly known as the Gator Bowl) in Jacksonville, Fla. And Mark Schlabach has Notre Dame returning to Orlando for the second time in four years to face Texas in the Russell Athletic Bowl (formerly known as the Champs Sports Bowl, which Notre Dame lost to Florida State in 2011).
It's not even June yet, so it'd be premature to make any sweeping conclusions about Notre Dame's chances this fall from these. But at the least, it's a good representation of one of the benefits of Notre Dame's ACC agreement: The Irish will slide into the ACC's bowl pecking order, which means Brian Kelly & Co. won't have to make backroom deals or hope other conferences don't fill their bowl requirements to earn a bid to an attractive bowl game.
The Big 12 didn't field a seventh bowl-eligible team last fall, allowing Notre Dame to play in the Pinstripe Bowl. But beginning this fall, Notre Dame can slide ahead of an ACC team in the conference's bowl pecking order if it has a record better than, equal to or one game worse than a given team.
The ACC's bowl tie-ins are:
-- Taxslayer.com vs. SEC (Jan. 2, 2015 in Jacksonville, Fla.)-- Capital One vs. SEC (Jan. 1, 2015 in Orlando, Fla.)
-- Orange vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame (Dec. 31, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Fla.)
-- Belk vs. SEC (Dec. 30, 2014 in Charlotte, N.C.)
-- Detroit vs. Big Ten (Dec. 30, 2014 in Detroit, Mich.)
-- Sun vs. Pac-12 (Dec. 27, 2014 in El Paso, Texas)
-- Pinstripe vs. Big Ten (Dec. 27, 2014 in New York)
-- St. Petersburg vs. AAC (Dec. 26, 2014 in St. Petersburg, Fla.)
-- Independence vs. SEC (TBA in Shreverport, La.)
-- Music City vs. SEC (TBA in Nashville, Tenn.)
-- Russell Athletic vs. Big 12 (TBA in Orlando, Fla.)
-- Military vs. AAC (TBA in Annapolis, Md.)
Some of these tie-ins (like the Taxslayer.com Bowl) could also go to Big Ten teams, but the point here: That's an awful lot of bowls, plenty of them good ones, on the table for Notre Dame if the Irish don't make the College Football Playoff or Orange Bowl.
Obviously, Notre Dame isn't gunning for the Russell Athletic Bowl, but it would be a far better (and safer) fallback plan than the Irish have had in years past.