In the last 15 years, 45 teams have reached the BCS without qualifying automatically through a conference championship. Some, like Boise State and TCU, have earned spots as a non-automatic qualifier, while others have finished in the top four, which clinches an automatic at-large berth. In Notre Dame's case, it has only needed to finish in the top 14 to be eligible.
This year, Notre Dame is hoping to avoid the unfamiliar position of not qualifying for the BCS despite 10 wins.
At this point, there is much concern among Notre Dame fans that the Irish would be left in the cold with a 10-2 record this year because of their ranking. As history has shown, a top 14 finish would almost certainly clinch a spot in the BCS for Notre Dame because of the program's attractiveness to bowl representatives through television and ticket revenue. So the question is: Can the Irish — assuming they win out, which is a big if at this point — rise from No. 23 in this week's BCS rankings to No. 14 in the final standings?
History is not on the side of Notre Dame pulling off the feat this year, but then again the Irish are a unique example compared to other teams. Below is a list of every program that qualified for the BCS in its history along with their ranking after Week 11, which is where the 2013 season currently sits. One note on the list: From 1998 through 2005, four bowl games were affiliated with the BCS. From 2006 to 2012, the BCS National Championship Game was added, thus providing two additional at-large berths each year.
It would still be surprising to see Notre Dame finish outside of the top 14 if it wins the final three games. Irish fans should root for Stanford to beat Oregon on Thursday because it will likely come down to how impressive a potential win in Palo Alto, Calif., would be Nov. 30.
Only five teams ranked lower than 12th in Week 11 have qualified as an at-large for the BCS:
2012 Northern Illinois
The Huskies are the only team on the list that was unranked this late into the season. However, Northern Illinois finished the season undefeated and ranked higher than the conference champions of two automatic-qualifying conference (Big East's Louisville and the Big Ten's Wisconsin), which automatically qualified them as an at-large bid.
This is the closest parallel that can be drawn to the 2013 Irish. The Wolverines sat 24th on the BCS rankings after week 11 and ascended into the top 14, making them an easy pick for the Sugar Bowl because of their prestige and the revenue they would bring in. Controversially, No. 7 Boise State, No. 8 Kansas State and No. 12 Baylor were all passed up for Michigan, who finished 13th in the final BCS rankings. Unlike Notre Dame, who needs a 7-0 finish after a 3-2 start to be eligible, Michigan began the season 6-0 before losing two of three to earn its No. 24 ranking. Michigan won its final three games, with the 45-17 victory over No. 16 Nebraska impressing voters the way a potential win at Stanford might for Notre Dame.
Without the national appeal of Notre Dame or Michigan, Iowa benefited from a lack of better choices that year. Only Penn State and Virginia Tech were eligible that year and did not make the BCS. Both Iowa and Penn State finished 10-2, but the Hawkeyes won the head-to-head matchup, making a Nittany Lion selection virtually impossible for the folks at the BCS.
Most people remember this Illinois squad for two games: its November win over Ohio State that — for the time being — appeared to knock the Buckeyes out of contention for the national championship, and the Rose Bowl Game in which it was greatly overmatched against USC. This team, led by quarterback Juice Williams and running back Rashard Mendenhall sat at No. 19 after week 11 and No. 13 in the final BCS rankings. The biggest reason the Illini were selected was to fill the traditional spot of a Big Ten team in the Rose Bowl, which was vacant with Ohio State's berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Hawaii benefited from a new BCS rule that automatically sent a top-12 non-automatic qualifier to the BCS in one of at-large berths.
Year (Week 11 ranking)
Notre Dame (4)
Northern Illinois (unranked)
Virginia Tech (10)
Ohio State (6)
Boise State (6)
Ohio State (11)
Notre Dame (5)
Boise State (12)
Ohio State (7)
Notre Dame (9)
Ohio State (3)
(In this season, Notre Dame was ranked 7th after falling to 8-1 with the loss to Boston College. The BCS passed up the Irish with its No. 9 final ranking, sending ND to the Gator Bowl.)
Oregon State (9)
Notre Dame (12)
Ohio State (7)