Earlier this week, we broke down what the ACC's new deal with the Orange Bowl means for Pitt and the conference. So now that the ACC has officially secured the deal with the bowl, there's the task of now actually finding someone to play.
As is almost always the case, Notre Dame appears to be a prime target. But there are a few realistic options.1. Notre Dame: I have a hard time believing the Irish aren't the top target of the bowl and the ACC. Notre Dame, even in down seasons, is a tremendous draw and one of the biggest names in college football. It's one of the reasons Pitt seems to want to schedule them at all costs. The ACC might not be able to get the Irish to join their conference, but an annual bowl tie-in is the next best thing. If you're not sure of the ACC's intentions, recent comments by commissioner John Swofford in an interview should give you an idea that they're interested:
What about specifically Notre Dame? Is that a possibility?
JS: I think it’s likely Notre Dame could be involved in the mix.
Here's my thing regarding Notre Dame, though. Would the Irish really want to tie themselves into the same bowl year after year - especially if some years, their payoff might be a pretty average ACC squad? Look, if I'm the ACC, I'm definitely considering this option. But from Notre Dame's standpoint, they might be better off just going after an at-large bid year after year. The risk in doing that, though, is that they'd have to be selected for one of the major bowls and could risk getting shut out of the big time bowls altogether. That won't likely happen if Notre Dame loses no more than two or maybe three games, but a tie in with the Orange Bowl could also ensure an average Irish squad lands in a New Years' Day bowl.
2. At-Large Slot/Conference Tie-In: I'm guessing this is where the ACC turns if Notre Dame doesn't work out. It makes sense because the conference could strike a deal with one, or as Swofford said in another part of that interview, several, conferences. Thing is, though, that they should act quickly before conferences commit teams to other bowl games. This is all new territory, but I've got to think that the sooner the better.
3. The (gasp) Big East: Yeah, I know...I wouldn't be a huge fan of this option, either. But here's the thing - the Big East is going to be capable of putting out a decent representative in some years. We all know how dangerous Boise State's been over the past decade or so and teams like Cincinnati, Louisville, and even someone like Houston could have good years as well. Perception wise, the ACC probably wants to avoid this matchup at all costs. I don't think they want to be even remotely linked to the Big East (even though many of their teams actually have Big East origins) and my guess is that the ACC/Orange Bowl wouldn't want to go this route. I don't see this happening, but if we're talking about possibilities, that could be one.