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Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s two possible bowl paths entering Championship Saturday

Notre Dame’s bowl destination will not become known until tomorrow, but it will be effectively decided today. And only two possibilities appear plausible.

Either the No. 17 Irish (9-3) will head to the ReliaQuest Bowl (née the Outback Bowl) on Jan. 1 at 12 ET in Tampa, a bowl Notre Dame has never appeared in, or they will head to the Pop-Tarts Bowl (née the Camping World Bowl, née the Champ Sports Bowl) on Dec. 28 at 5:45 ET in Orlando.

An appearance in the ReliaQuest Bowl would come against the SEC, a team in the range of No. 21 Tennessee or No. 13 LSU. The Pop-Tarts Bowl opponent would be from the Big 12, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State most likely, conceivably in that order of probability.

Looking at today’s conference championship games, two scenarios would push the Irish into the Pop-Tarts Bowl.

If Florida State beats Louisville (8 ET on ABC) but is still left out of the College Football Playoff because the No. 4 Seminoles look that much worse without star quarterback Jordan Travis, then the Cardinals would be in line for the ReliaQuest bid instead of Notre Dame.

In that respect, the lede of this article was a bit imprecise. Michigan, Georgia and Texas all winning would convey some uncertainty around Florida State, as unfair as that may seem to a 13-0 conference champion. The College Football Playoff selection committee could deliberate on that possibility until Sunday morning.

Otherwise, it would take Alabama beating Georgia (4 ET on CBS) and then only one of the two SEC powers making the Playoff. That would shift enough of the bowl selection dominoes to knock the ACC out of the ReliaQuest Bowl entirely, almost certainly sending the Irish to the Pop-Tarts Bowl.

Grant the Tide upset there, a five-point underdog certainly capable of that mild surprise, and what scenarios would knock the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs out of the Playoff? A Michigan win (vs. Iowa at 7 ET on FOX) and a Texas win (vs. Oklahoma State at 12 ET on ABC) should be enough, quite frankly.

Why the Pop-Tarts Bowl? It is among a healthy number of bowls considered on the first tier of ACC selections, all below the ReliaQuest Bowl if it sets up for an ACC team, but more discreetly, some are above others. The Gator Bowl, the Holiday Bowl and the Pop-Tarts Bowl have a bit more prestige and are treated as such.

Notre Dame was in the Gator Bowl a year ago, and one of the primary wants of these assignments is to avoid repeat trips to the same location.

No. 23 Clemson will reportedly enjoy San Diego in the Holiday Bowl.

Which leaves the Pop-Tarts Bowl, and at 9-3, The Irish will be the first selection of any bowl game able to make that choice.

Obviously, rosters are in flux more than ever, so any bowl predictions made now would be amiss, not knowing what departures could come Monday, but to frame some thoughts out of the gates, the version of Notre Dame seen against Stanford last week would be favored against any of the four possible opponents mentioned. If those opponents were the same versions as last seen, though that is just as improbable for them as it clearly is for the Irish …

— LSU would be within a point of Notre Dame on the opening spread.
— Oklahoma would be about a 2.5-point underdog.
— Tennessee would be about a 6-point underdog.
— Oklahoma State would be about an 11-point underdog.

But again, all rosters are in flux. The Irish are now without most receivers, evoking memories of their last meeting with Oklahoma State, when Braden Lenzy needed to run 70 routes.

Junior running back Audric Estimé is widely expected to opt out of the bowl game once it is known. Others will yet enter the transfer portal.

And every one of those four possible opponents, along with all of the FBS expect for maybe five teams, has the same roster uncertainties to navigate at the moment.

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