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Notre Dame Football: Learning to Love the Camping World Bowl

It’s not what we wanted, but let’s find the silver linings

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Duke James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Your Notre Dame Fighting Irish are headed to Orlando to play the Iowa State Cyclones in the Camping World Bowl. Search your feelings; you know it to be true.

Most years, a 10-2 record would get Notre Dame to a New Year’s Six Bowl. A confluence of factors including the peculiarities of bowl conference tie-ins, a glut of 10+ win teams, and an aquatic abomination in Ann Arbor have the Irish on the outside looking in this year. It’s disappointing, but life often is; sometimes you have to make the best of a bad situation.

So in the spirit of gratitude that comes with the holiday season, I’ve decided to try talking myself into loving this game. It turns out there are some upsides! Let’s begin:

The Sponsor

Part of the reason this bowl is such a disappointment is its undeniably silly name. But let’s cut the CWB some slack.

Camping World promotes outdoor recreation in a country where the average person spends 93 percent of his or her time indoors, and even hot new exercise trends involve spinning your wheels like a hamster while making everyone concerned about your marriage. They need all the help they can get. If brazen bowl game branding helps them, godspeed.

Bonus: whenever I pass a Camping World or one of their outdoor-store brethren at a freeway exit, I think of Bill Dance bloopers.

Spicing Up The Trophy Room

Do you ever wonder if Nick Saban gets bored because so many of his trophies look exactly the same? He probably doesn’t, but who knows, a piece like this might really tie the room together:

NCAA Football: Camping World Bowl-Oklahoma State vs Virginia Tech Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

And if there’s one thing we know about our beloved(?) head coach, it’s that he loves his hardware. Expect an amusing celebration video if the Irish win.

The Date

Sure, if your favorite team doesn’t make the playoff, you’d like them to be in a New Year’s Six Bowl. Failing that, a New Year’s Day or New Year’s-adjacent game like the Citrus Bowl or Gator Bowl would at least have an air of respectability. December 28 feels like a punishment.

On the other hand, New Year’s Day doesn’t mean everything it used to. Both CFP semifinals are on the 28th. So think of this game as the undercard to a heavyweight title fight, featuring a down-on-his-luck former champ looking for a W to turn his fortunes around against a scrappy underdog hungry to make a statement. There’s drama there if you look hard enough for it.

Plus, the Irish not playing on January 1 frees you to spend that day (which can be a bummer since it’s the end of the holiday season and you usually have to work the next day) doing some other fun activity. My suggestion is to get your friends and/or kids together and play your own New Year’s Day bowl. That way you will spend the day outside enjoying the brisk winter air, making lasting memories, and not watching the games on TV and thinking about what might have been if your team hadn’t gotten shellacked by the most irritating coach, program and athletic department on the planet.

Revenge for the 2012-13 Basketball Team

In the 2013 NCAA tournament, the Cyclones swept into Los Angeles and spun Notre Dame out of the tournament in a 76-58 first-round beatdown that wasn’t even that close. This same Irish team upset Louisville in five overtimes in one of the most thrilling college basketball games I have ever seen. They deserved better.

It’s a New Opponent

It’s always fun to play a team for the first time. ISU isn’t a huge conquest, but it’s still an opportunity to extend the reaches of the Irish empire. If we were playing Risk, this would be taking Iceland when your forces are concentrated in Britain and Scandinavia and your units elsewhere are spread too thin to make a bigger move. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only move we have.

Erasing Campbell Mystique

Matt Campbell’s name is often bandied about as a better option than Brian Kelly when we talk about who should be coaching Notre Dame. It should not be. The guy has never won more than eight games against Power 5 competition and has lost to more FCS teams than Notre Dame has ever played (sure, one, but that’s still too many).

NCAA Football: Texas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully BK recognizes this opportunity and crushes the Cyclones and this talking point with them. But I dream.

Eleven Wins

Regardless of what Coach Kelly thinks, getting to eleven wins would be a nice achievement. Only two other Notre Dame teams (you know which) have won more than ten games in the new millennium. For a team that has taken as many lumps as this one to become - by record, anyway - the third-most-successful Irish team of this century would be a confidence-builder.

No Matter What the Result Is, It Will Be Clarifying

The chances the Irish lose this game are slim. They are favorites against a middling opponent; Ian Book and Brian Kelly (post-2016) rarely lose those games. I also don’t think there’ll be issues with player motivation. These guys have been hungry to prove themselves after having been cast into outer darkness on October 27.

If the Irish win, they are who we thought they were: a quietly solid team who stumbled a couple times, but nevertheless upheld a consistent standard of good football to carry into the next season.

If they find a way to lose, well, then this team couldn’t beat Iowa State on a neutral field, which should relieve us of any New Year’s Six/College Football Playoff-related FOMO.

It’s a Notre Dame Football Game

You love those, don’t you? No, it’s not the game we wanted; it’s not even the backup to the backup. But we still get to watch the Irish play football, which only happens a dozen or so times a year. And according to Kelly, no one is sitting out, so we get one more chance to see some truly special guys suit up: Chase Claypool, Khalid Kareem, Jalen Elliott, Alohi Gilman. These guys’ final moments in an Irish uniform will be worth enjoying.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame
You’re going to miss this.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports


Consider the following things happening in the world that are worse than Notre Dame playing in the Camping World Bowl:

  • Spotify Christmas stations playing non-Christmas songs: I don’t know who got the idea that “When You Wish Upon A Star” and “My Favorite Things” qualify as Christmas songs, but they need to be locked up.
  • $60 cords to connect your phone to Apple Airpods: The fact that there is a market for this product tells me this country has an epidemic of short-term memory loss.
  • Moose fights: This is from a few years ago, but it’s important to remember there are neighborhoods in the world where moose* fight in the street, and I don’t live in one of those neighborhoods. That’s the real tragedy here.

*Mooses? Meese? No, it’s just moose? Weird.