Nov 27, 2021; Stanford, California, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman stands on the sideline during the second quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

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

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 take on 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 A&M.

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

Dec 18, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) celebrates after the Pac-12 Championship against the Southern California Trojans at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Oregon defeated USC 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No. 25 Oregon stumbles into Fiesta with No. 10 Iowa State

In less than a week, Oregon went from understudy to center stage.

The Ducks got into the Pacific-12 Conference title game only because Washington had to drop out because of coronavirus concerns. Oregon made the most of the opportunity by defeating host USC 31-24 for the championship.

That gave the No. 25 Ducks (4-2) the Pac-12’s automatic berth to a New Year’s Six game. They’ll meet No. 10 Iowa State (8-3) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 in Glendale, Ariz.

“We fought this year,” said Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who was named the MVP of the Pac-12 title game with five tackles and a sack. “So many trials and tribulations. So many things that kept popping up. So many excuses we could have made, and we didn’t flinch. We stuck to the script and got it done.”

Oregon won its first three games before back-to-back losses to Oregon State and California. A matchup with Washington to determine the winner of the Pac-12 North was canceled, leaving the Ducks a half-game behind the Huskies and seemingly destined for a lower-tier bowl game.

That is, until a virus spike in Washington’s athletic department. The Huskies’ loss was the Ducks’ gain.

“We were itching to get back to our kind of football, and we did it (against USC),” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “(We) really just came out with an attitude, came out with a purpose and a mission.”

The Cyclones took a different path to their first January bowl game.

After losing their season opener to Louisiana, the Cyclones won seven of their next eight games before a 27-21 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship.

“From our standpoint, this has been a really special season for our program as we continue to grow over the last couple years,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “We’ve got a great senior class made up of 60 seniors that have really stayed the course in this program and really led us every step of the way.”

Iowa State has the nation’s leading rusher in Breece Hall, who totaled 1,436 yards and 19 touchdowns. Quarterback Brock Purdy threw for 2,594 yards and 18 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

“They’re an excellent, talented, well-coached football team that schematically runs more than a couple things that are very different than what we’ve seen,” Cristobal said.

Ducks quarterback Tyler Shough threw for 1,480 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions in six games. CJ Verdell, who was Oregon’s rushing leader in the regular season, missed the Pac-12 finale with a knee injury but could be back for the bowl game.

“When you say Oregon football, you have an immediate respect for who they are and what they’re about,” Campbell said.

It will be a homecoming for the quarterbacks, who both starred at Arizona high schools. Purdy played at Perry High in Gilbert and Shough at Hamilton High in neighboring Chandler. They met twice in high school, with Perry, led by Purdy, prevailing 65-63 and 63-60.

“Certainly a competitive situation at the high school level and now they get to do it at the collegiate level,” Cristobal said.

The Ducks will be making their third appearance in the Fiesta Bowl after beating Colorado in 2002 and Kansas State in 2013.

–Field Level Media

Rose, Fiesta bowls to be played without fans

The Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl will be played without fans in January due to COVID-19 restrictions, both bowl committees announced Thursday.

While the Fiesta Bowl will allow families of players to attend the Jan. 2 game at Glendale, Ariz., the state, city and county nixed the Tournament of Roses’ request for the same in Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Bowl is one of the College Football Playoff’s semifinal games this go-round.

Los Angeles County is under a stay-at-home order due to the pandemic through mid-December.

“While we are disappointed that the Rose Bowl Game will not be played in front of spectators, we are pleased that we are still able to hold the game this year, continuing the 100-year plus tradition of The Granddaddy of Them All,” said David Eads, executive director and CEO of the Tournament of Roses. “We continue to work closely with health department officials and the Rose Bowl Stadium to provide the safest possible environment for our game participants.”

Arizona has experienced an uptick in cases of COVID-19, peaking at more than 5,700 late last month.

“While we are disappointed that the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl will not have fans in the stadium to enjoy Bowl Season this year, we respect the decisions made by the local authorities,” said Mike Nealy, the executive director of the Fiesta Bowl Organization. “Our staff was incredibly diligent to put health and safety measures in place that earned the endorsement from the Governor’s Office for policies that aligned with recommendations for reducing COVID-19 transmission risk. Ultimately, we all need to do our part to ensure the health and safety of our community to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

The Sugar Bowl — the other CFP semifinal — as well as the Orange Bowl and CFP title game are still on track to host a limited amount of fans.

Ten bowl games thus far have been canceled due to the pandemic: Bahamas, Celebration, Fenway, Hawaii, Holiday, Las Vegas, Motor City, Pinstripe, Redbox and Sun.

–Field Level Media