By Stewart Mandel
November 23, 2009

Notre Dame may have its own provision in the BCS selection process and an attractive fallback in the Gator Bowl, but the independent Irish don't have a whole lot of other bowl options when they fall short of those games.

Barring an upset at Stanford on Saturday, Notre Dame will finish 6-6 for the second straight regular season, putting the Irish out of contention for not only the Gator Bowl, but for any other bowl, unless A) a bowl spot opens up because a conference fails to provide enough eligible teams and B) there aren't any other 7-5 teams available.

I'm currently projecting four openings, in the GMAC (ACC), Little Caesars (Big Ten), Humanitarian (Mountain West) and EagleBank (ACC) bowls. I'm also projecting three at-large teams -- Middle Tennessee, Northern Illinois, Bowling Green -- to finish with seven or more wins. That leaves exactly one spot for a 6-6 team, presumably Notre Dame (though UCLA will be an option as well). The most attractive choice for the Irish would likely be a matchup with quarterback Dan LeFevour and Central Michigan in Detroit. Temple may be another possible opponent.

However, should a third Sun Belt team -- either Louisiana-Lafayette or Louisiana-Monroe -- get to seven wins this weekend, the Irish may be shut out altogether.

• Another consequence of Notre Dame's loss to Connecticut is that the loser of the Dec. 5 Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game -- which will determine the Big East's BCS representative -- is now unlikely to fall below the Gator Bowl. One possible exception: If the 9-1 Panthers lose to West Virginia this weekend, the folks in Jacksonville would likely take the Mountaineers instead.

• Finally, it's important to remember that bowls are not obligated to choose their teams in exact order of conference standings. For instance, "ACC No. 3" means "third choice of ACC teams" -- not "the ACC's third-place team." Also, a bowl can only select a 6-6 team from a conference if no 7-5 team from that league is still available, and bowls seeking a replacement for a conference without enough eligible teams cannot choose a 6-6 team if there is a 7-5 team available.

Teams in bold have accepted bowl invitation* -- replacement team for conference without enough eligible teams

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