SOUTH BEND — It wasn’t a matter of where Notre Dame would play its bowl game this year but against whom. With four Big 12 teams eligible to face the Fighting Irish, it was uncertain which one would be selected to face Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl.
In the end, Iowa State was chosen as Notre Dame’s opponent for the Dec. 28 bowl game in Orlando, Florida. It’s the first matchup between the Cyclones (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) and No. 15 Irish (10-2).
“We’re excited to be a part of the Camping World Bowl,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Our players are excited. Our university is excited. We’ve got a great matchup with a very, very good football team in Iowa State.”
“To play a program that has really stood for excellence through a long time in Notre Dame, that’s certainly tremendous,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell added. “To be selected in a bowl game like this, to be able to play an opponent like that, it’s humbling.”
The Camping World Bowl seemed to be the postseason destination for Notre Dame after its second loss of the season, a 45-14 decision against Michigan on Oct. 26. A 5-0 November has the Irish riding high, though, going into the contest.
Iowa State, which was ranked No. 21 in the preseason Associated Press poll, could easily have 10 or more wins. Its five losses have come by a combined 21 points, two of which were by one point. Its largest loss was in the season finale, 27-17 against Kansas State.
“This isn’t a tradition-rich program where we can lean on experiences of the past,” Campbell said. “Every situation that we have, every step that we take, is really our first step. I think one of the things, even in this season, was dealing with this new sense of expectation … knowing we’ll get everybody’s best shot, how to handle that, how to be your best in those moments.”
This is Campbell’s fourth season in Ames, Iowa. After going 3-9 in his first year, the Cyclones posted 8-5 campaigns in 2017 and 2018. They won the Liberty Bowl in 2017 and lost the Alamo Bowl last year. A win over Notre Dame would give them a third-straight 8-5 season.
Campbell’s success led the university to sign him to a contract extension through 2025 on Wednesday.
“Matt Campbell has done an incredible job,” Kelly said. “So it’ll be a great challenge for our football team.”
Iowa State features a strong passing attack led by sophomore Brock Purdy. Although he’s only in his second year with the program, Purdy has appeared in 22 games for the Cyclones, starting 21 of them. He’s thrown for 6,010 yards, 43 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in those games.
Notre Dame’s pass defense ranks as one of the best in the country, however, allowing just 163.7 yards per game — third best in the country. Purdy vs. the Irish secondary could go a long way in determining who ends the season victorious.
“I think what he’s done has been impressive,” Campbell said. “We’ve had to rebuild our entire offense kind of through him and with him. … I’ve been proud of Brock’s growth, really proud of the growth in some of the guys that have stepped to the forefront around him. I think that’s kind of taken all season to really grow into that.”
“I think we force the ball out of the quarterback’s hands very well,” Kelly said about his defense. “Our pass rush has been very consistent. I think when you look at those things, they have many components. … Tackling is important. Limiting those yards after catches, I think we’ve been really, really good at that.”
Last year, Notre Dame was getting ready to play in the CFP semifinals at the Cotton Bowl against Clemson. With no potential national championship game to play for this year, Kelly said preparing for the Camping World Bowl will be more like a traditional bowl game prep. Younger players will have a chance to scrimmage more in practice leading up to the game, as well as have a better chance to play in the game itself.
Notre Dame is taking its academic finals this week, so Kelly said the team won’t practice until Saturday. He also said no players have approached him yet about sitting out the bowl game.
“We have a history and tradition here,” Kelly said. “The nine bowl games that I’ve been part of, everybody plays. If something changes, I’m certain we’ll deal with it and they’ll let us know.”