December 31, 2010/2:00 pm Eastern
El Paso, TX - Sun Bowl
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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During the 1980s it was the preeminent rivalry in college football, Catholics versus Convicts, as the independent powers squared off year after year with national title implications on the line. But it has now been twenty years since the bitter rivals battled one another, Miami’s shift toward conference affiliation truncating the opportunities to schedule one another for a game in the twenty years since their last meeting. With both schools at a crossroads, they will match up in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve to stir back up the animosities. The era when both teams were perennial national championship contenders has long since passed – by no means is this a vintage battle between Lou Holtz and Jimmy Johnson or Dennis Erickson – but the record goes out the window and the personnel on the sidelines matters little when these two historical powerhouses meet. El Paso will be ablaze with a classic pairing in the 76th edition of the second oldest bowl game in the country…
- Notre Dame: Miami is going to try to establish the run early with its wide array of speedy skilled players. It is going to fall to sophomore LB Manti Te’o to cover the ground sideline to sideline that had him leading the team in tackles (126 total, 16th in the nation) in his second season. An increased role for the 6’2″, 245-pound Hawaiian led to Notre Dame’s vast improvement on defense in Brian Kelly’s first season at the helm — thanks in large part to Te’o and his mobility, the Irish allow more than five fewer points a game and are a top-30 scoring defense.
- Miami: He’s either absolutely brilliant… or absolutely atrocious. Returning back to a starting role, QB Jacory Harris needs to have the game of his life if the Hurricanes are to prevent losing their third straight game for the first time since Harris’ first season with the team. If Stephen Morris was not hobbling around on crutches with a gimpy ankle, the junior probably wouldn’t even see playing time given how poorly he’s played in stretches this year. But start he must, and after returning in the regular-season finale from the concussion that knocked him out of the Virginia game he has to limit his mistakes and direct what should in all rights be a potent offense. Harris is the barometer of the Hurricanes’ offense.
KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE
The game of football is more often than not won in the trenches, and this one is no different. Miami’s front seven are the backbone of the nation’s second-best pass defense. Quick and efficient, no team gets more tackles behind the line of scrimmage. If freshman QB Tommy Rees is going to have enough time to find WR Michael Floyd and his other receivers, it will be because the Notre Dame O-line manages to neutralize highly-regarded DL Allen Bailey and Olivier Vernon and LB Sean Spence, who finished the regular season in the top-20 nationally in tackles for loss. Kelly’s team will have to allow far fewer than the 11-plus broken plays per game Miami averages (8.6 TFL, 3.1 sacks per game) if they are going to give both Rees on passing downs and their stable of tailbacks in rushing situations the time and space to gain positive yardage and keep the chains moving. With an erratic offense, Miami needs their linemen and linebackers to limit Notre Dame’s time of possession to give Harris and company enough chances to succeed.
TALE OF THE TAPE
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Motivation: For the kids on both rosters, the days of yesteryear when there was genuine bad blood between these universities is long gone; the underclassmen, by and large, weren’t even alive for the most part when the two teams last met. So motivation has to come from a new source. Notre Dame has the motivation of closing out Brian Kelly’s first season at the helm with a victory over a second straight rival after they finished the regular season with a win over USC… and there’s the memory of Declan Sullivan, the young video operator who died tragically and needlessly in the scissors lift accident earlier this year. For Miami, Jeff Stoutland coaches the team for one game after Randy Shannon’s firing before Al Golden steps behind the coach’s desk. For the Hurricanes, a win could quietly give the team momentum heading into next season, validate the exit of Shannon and quiet the talk of how they’ve perpetually underachieved.
There is little to separate these two old rivals as they meet in El Paso for one of the old deans of the bowl calendar, the oldest bowl in existence not involved with the BCS. Brian Kelly remembers after last season what can happen to a football team after they lose their coach; he watched from South Bend as his former Bearcats were crushed by a Florida team celebrating Tebow’s last game at the helm of the Gator offense. Miami has the players to persevere, but Notre Dame has momentum on its side heading into the contest and that will prove the difference in a close-fought affair…
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 24, Miami 21