Mon, 24 Jan 2022

Marcus Freeman to debut in Fiesta Bowl after Notre Dame's CFP miss

Field Level Media
06 Dec 2021, 09:40 GMT+10

Looks like Notre Dame has turned into the ultimate bubble team for the College Football Playoff.

The Irish were the first team left out of the four-team playoff when the committee placed them at No. 5 on Sunday.

Last year, Notre Dame gained the last playoff spot.

Notre Dame (11-1) will takeon the Big 12's Oklahoma State (11-2), which was ranked No. 9 after losing Saturday's league championship game to Baylor, in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz. It will mark the first matchup between the programs.

But if the Irish feel jilted by Sunday's decision, they should be rather accustomed to it. After all, during the past week their coach bolted for LSU, with Brian Kelly leaving behind a program that he had forged into a regular contender for a CFP spot.

So newly named coach Marcus Freeman, promoted from defensive coordinator, will take Notre Dame to the Fiesta Bowl.

This is a chance for Freeman to make an immediate impression. Notre Dame hasn't won a major bowl game since 1993, so Kelly departed without having accomplished that. The Irish have a nine-game losing streak in the "New Year's Six" bowls and the Bowl Championship Series clashes that preceded the current format to determine a national champion.

"It's a great opportunity to win 12 games, to kind of right some of the wrongs of the past that we haven't been so successful in these New Year's Day bowls," Freeman said in an ESPN interview. "It'll be a motivated team, a motivated coaching staff and we're excited for the opportunity."

Earlier Sunday, Notre Dame released statements from players regarding their support for Freeman, the defensive coordinator who was promoted Friday.

"Coach Freeman will bring a new energy to this program that it hasn't seen in a long time," senior linebacker Drew White said. "Everybody in the country needs to be aware. ND is coming for a national championship."

Just not this season, as it turns out.

There really wasn't much of a debate to include Notre Dame in the four-team bracket. The team's lone loss was to undefeated Cincinnati at home, an Oct. 2 setback that ended up costly.

Cincinnati was placed at No. 4 by the committee, so there wasn't a chance that Notre Dame could pull ahead of an unbeaten team that had won the head-to-head matchup in South Bend, Ind.

Even with a fifth consecutive season with a double-digit win total, Notre Dame needed help as conferences held championship games Saturday. If Alabama had been whipped by Georgia in the Southeastern Conference, it's possible the Crimson Tide could have dipped below Notre Dame. A Michigan loss to Iowa in the Big Ten title game could have allowed Notre Dame to move up.

Or, perhaps, if Cincinnati had slipped up against Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship game, there was a chance the Irish could have moved ahead of the Bearcats.

Notre Dame shed its independent status because of the pandemic in 2020, playing as an Atlantic Coast Conference member on a one-season basis. The Irish won the regular-season title, then lost in the ACC championship game to Clemson.

That nearly cost Notre Dame a spot in the CFP, but the Irish was tabbed No. 4. The No. 5 team was Texas AM.

So the CFP bubble worked out for Notre Dame a year ago, largely because of its regular-season victory against Clemson and a late-season road win at North Carolina.

Notre Dame ended the 2015 season in the Fiesta Bowl, where it lost to Ohio State. This will mark Notre Dame's 21st appearance in a bowl on New Year's Day.

--Field Level Media

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