Who Will the Irish Play?

With the Irish now qualified for a BCS bowl bid, now the attention turns to which bowl and which opponent? Who would you rather play?

I don't think there is any question the Irish will be the first at-large pick on BCS selection day with the Fiesta choosing Notre Dame as the first team taken from the at-large pool. It's possible the Irish might end up in the Orange Bowl, and it's also possible they won't be picked at all, but the solid bet is they'll likely end up in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.

Plenty of teams have been thrown around recently as possible opponents, but one of two teams from the Big 10 conference are probably most likely at this point—Ohio State or Penn State.

The Buckeyes would be a difficult challenge for the Irish. Ohio State has a very balanced offense. They average almost 190 yards per game on the ground with running back Antonio Pittman leading the way with almost 110 yards per game.

Quarterback Troy Smith is also a dynamic runner and has amassed 545 yards on the ground this season. Smith can also hurt you with his arm as he's completed 62 percent of his passes this season and 14 touchdowns while only throwing four interceptions.

The Buckeyes also possess two speedy receivers, Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn, Jr.. Having two deep threats can put a lot of pressure on a defense. Combine that with Smith's ability to both run and throw, and Pittman's speed to the outside, and you have a potent offense. Ohio State had a string of four straight games of 40+ points or more earlier in the season before scoring 25 against Michigan to end their season.

But it's the Buckeye defense that has impressed most people. The defense is ranked No. 1 in the country against the rush (74.45 yards per game), and they're ranked No. 7 in scoring defense, allowing just 14.82 points per game.

Ohio State defenders have allowed teams to convert just 28 percent on third down and collected 39 sacks on the season.

There is no question Ohio State would be a challenge for the Irish.

The Nittany Lions also would be a difficult team for the Irish to face.

Penn State is currently ranked No .13 in rushing offense, averaging 220 yards per game on the ground. They also average a shade over 35 points per game.

The Lions also have a dual-threat quarterback in Michael Robinson. Robinson averages 71 yards per game on the ground, but he's also an effective passer. While he's only completing a shade under 52 percent of his passes, he has thrown for 16 touchdowns on the season. The Penn State offense usually is as good as Robinson is on the day. He means that much to the Lion offense.

Running back Tony Hunt is the other threat on the ground. Hunt averages just under 100 yards per game rushing and also averages six yards per carry.

Wide receiver Deon Butler is the man to watch out for in the Nittany Lion passing attack. The freshman receiver averages over 18 yards per catch and has nabbed nine touchdown passes on the season.

But again, it's the Lion defense that most people have been impressed with, and rightfully so.

Penn State is ranked No. 10 in scoring defense, allowing just 16.45 points per game. They're ranked No. 13 in rushing defense and No. 17 in pass efficiency defense.

The Lion defense allows teams to convert just 38 percent of their third-down opportunities and they've collected 38 sacks on the season.

Some have suggested that Auburn might slip into a BCS game if Georgia can defeat LSU in the SEC Championship game. Many think a ND-Auburn match-up would make for great TV. I tend to agree, but Auburn would be another tough foe for the Irish.

The Tigers have a very balanced offensive attack as well. Running back Kenny Irons leads an Auburn rushing attack that averages over 200 yards per game. Irons has gained over 1,200 yards and scored 13 rushing touchdowns this season.

Quarterback Brandon Cox has been pretty efficient for a first-year starter. Cox completes just under 60 percent of his passes and throws for an average of 218 yards per game. He's thrown 14 touchdown passes this season while only throwing seven interceptions in the defensive-heavy SEC.

The Tigers have two outstanding receivers with familiar names for Irish recruiting fans. Ben Obomanu and Devon Aromashodu lead the way in the passing game, and both were top targets for the Irish a few years back. Aromashodu is averaging almost 20 yards per reception and Obomanu leads the team with five touchdown receptions.

The Auburn defense is just as impressive. The Tigers are ranked No. 6 in scoring defense in the country, allowing just 14.73 points per game. They're also ranked No. 10 in total defense in the country and have allowed just 16 touchdowns all season.

The Tigers allow teams to convert just 31 percent of their third-down opportunities, and they've allowed just six passing touchdowns all season. Throw in another 36 sacks on the season and this is a very good Auburn defense.

Oregon is another possible opponent for the Irish. Oregon's only loss on the season was a 45-13 loss at the hands of No. 1 ranked USC.

The Ducks lost their starter at quarterback, Kellen Clemens, earlier in the season and Sophomore Dennis Dixon has stepped in and performed well.

Dixon is completing an impressive 68 percent of his passes and has thrown six touchdowns on the season.

The Ducks rush for a respectable 138 yards per game, but they're also ranked No. 7 in the country in passing offense with 310 yards per game. However, a lot of that had to do with Clemens' fine senior season before succumbing to injury. Nevertheless, Dixon has been impressive in limited action.

The Ducks do have Demetrius Williams in the passing game. Williams is averaging almost 19 yards per catch and has caught 10 touchdowns this season.

The main guy to watch out for in the running game is Terrence Whitehead. Whitehead averages just under 15 carries per game, but he picks up 4.4 yards per carry. Whitehead is also a threat in the passing game. The running back has an impressive 46 receptions on the season and has scored four touchdowns receiving.

The Duck defense is the least potent of the potential opponents, but they're still a solid defense.

The Oregon defense allows just under 24 points per game. They surrender around 134 yards rushing per game and 223 yards passing per game.

They have allowed 21 touchdowns through the air, but they've also picked off 22 passes on the season. Is that even possible?

They do generate a pretty good pass rush with 31 sacks on the season and they've held teams to a respectable 36 percent on third down attempts.

If you're just looking at it by the numbers, Oregon looks to be the best match-up for Notre Dame on paper. With an inexperienced quarterback, an average running game and the less stout defense of the four teams, the Ducks look to be the team Notre Dame matches up with the best. But most people feel that Notre Dame will likely face either Ohio State or Penn State in the Fiesta bowl.

Any of these opponents would give the Irish a significant challenge. Which team do you want the Irish to face in a bowl game?


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