Dec. 6—SOUTH BEND — After an 11-1 finish to its regular season, Notre Dame was awarded with a New Year's Six Bowl berth on Sunday.
Following the chaos of Saturday's conference championship slate, the Irish found themselves sitting at No. 5 when the final College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled. Because of that, there will be no opportunity for Notre Dame to compete for a national championship this season.
However, the Fighting Irish will get a chance to earn a marquee victory in what will be new head coach Marcus Freeman's first game as leader of the program. For the first time since 2016, the Irish will be in Glendale, Arizona for the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, taking on No. 9 Oklahoma State (11-2) on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET.
The Cowboys come in following a heartbreaking loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday. With a win over the Bears, Oklahoma State would've had a good chance to make the College Football Playoff. Instead, head coach Mike Gundy and his group will look to win its first major bowl game since the 2012 Fiesta Bowl.
If the Irish beat the Cowboys, it'll be Notre Dame's first major bowl victory since defeating Texas A&M in the 1994 Cotton Bowl.
REES AND GUNDY EXCITED FOR OPPORTUNITY
During Sunday's virtual zoom conference, both Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy expressed their excitement of having a chance to compete in a New Year's Six bowl.
"I just think on behalf of the entire program here, we just want to thank the Fiesta Bowl for, obviously, having us in this game," Rees said. "And we're excited to represent such a historical game in a great manner. We've got a great opponent ahead of us in Oklahoma State. We know it presents a great challenge, but I think our entire program is extremely excited to get back out there on the field and get practicing in preparation for another great game."
"We're very excited to be a part of the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl," Gundy added. "It's going to be cool, and it'll bring in a lot of national recognition. We'll be facing a team that finished fifth in the (College Football Playoff) rankings, a team that was right there in regards to the playoff. The game will draw a lot of recognition across the country because of Notre Dame's history, but I'm excited about our logo. I'm excited about Oklahoma State, and the way that people recognize us from coast-to-coast. I think it'll be a great matchup, and a heck of a football game."
On New Year's Day, the meeting between both top 10 teams will be the first of its history. Both the Irish and the Cowboys saw sustained success over the second half of the season, with Notre Dame winning seven games in a row to end the year and Oklahoma State going on a five-game winning streak before Saturday's loss to the Bears.
At first glance, perhaps the most intriguing matchup on the field between these two teams will be Notre Dame's offense against Oklahoma State's defense. The Cowboys are dynamic defensively and lead the country in both team sacks (55) and tackles-for-loss (110).
In addition to those numbers, Oklahoma State is in the top 12 of every major statistical category on that side of the ball. They rank third in total defense (278.4 yards per game), fifth in rushing defense (91.2 yards per game), eighth in scoring defense (16.8 points per game) and 12th in passing defense (187.2 yards per game).
The Irish offense has played exceptionally well as a unit during its seven-game winning streak, but Oklahoma State will likely present Notre Dame with its toughest challenge since the Irish fell to Cincinnati on Oct. 2 in South Bend.
"(Saturday) was my first opportunity to sit down and watch them play," said Rees of Oklahoma State's defense. "I've gotten a little bit ahead on some film. Just looking at them early on, they present a lot of challenges. They do a lot of different things defensively. They're very multiple in their fronts and their coverages. They definitely present a great challenge for us — one that we're going to have to prepare for especially given the time they're going to have to prepare. We're going to have to really dive into who they are, what they do and how we want to answer some of those issues that they present."
Evan Lepak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 240326. Follow him on Twitter