Two storied programs will square off on New Year's Eve in the Sun Bowl, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Miami-Florida Hurricanes. The showdown between these two 7-5 teams will take place at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas.
Notre Dame is making its 30th bowl appearance overall, including its first in the Sun Bowl, and its eighth in the state of Texas. The Fighting Irish own a 14-15 mark in postseason play and had lost nine straight bowl games until posting a 49-21 victory over Hawaii in the 2008 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu.
Of the 12 games that Notre Dame played during the 2010 regular season, 11 came against bowl-eligible teams. The Irish own a 7-5 record thanks to an undefeated November, as first-year head coach Brian Kelly clearly has his squad playing with a wealth of confidence. UND was hit hard by injury during the regular season, especially on the offensive side of the ball, which makes the moderate success all the more impressive. Kelly, in his 20th season as a collegiate head coach, owns a 13-5 postseason record.
As for Miami, it will be making its 36th postseason appearance and owns a 19-16 bow record. The Hurricanes said goodbye to head coach Randy Shannon after the conclusion of a regular season that once again fell short of expectations. The search for a new leader took just a matter of weeks, and Miami decided that former Temple head coach Al Golden was the right man for the job.
"There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be the head coach at the University of Miami long-term," said Miami athletics director Kirby Hocutt. "Al Golden is very loyal and he wants to be at the University of Miami. He wants to build this program back to the pinnacle of college football."
The 22nd head coach in Hurricane history, Golden has a proven track record of rebuilding programs. After taking over the Owls, who went 0-11 the season prior to his arrival, Golden led his team to a 17-5 record over the last 22 regular-season games, including a 2010 defeat of Big East champion and Fiesta Bowl participant Connecticut. The 41-year-old coach was able to lead Temple to two winning seasons, which is exactly half of its total over the 26 years prior. While he has already begun the process of recruiting, Golden won't be leading the 'Canes in this Sun Bowl, as that job will fall to holdover offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
The Fighting Irish and Hurricanes are set to face off for the 24th time, with the two teams meeting for the first time since 1990. Notre Dame holds a 15-7-1 series lead, which includes wins in two of the last three.
Notre Dame lost quarterback Dayne Crist in the ninth game season with a serious leg injury, and Kyle Rudolph was lost as well with a hamstring injury. Armondo Allen continues his recovery from a hip injury, and it seems unlikely that he will be able to play against Miami-Florida. Clearly, the offense looks different now then at the start of the season for the Fighting Irish, who are scoring 25.8 ppg behind 378.2 total ypg. Of the 36 offensive touchdowns the team has scored to date, 26 have been passing scores.
Tommy Rees has taken over under center for Notre Dame, and he has completed 63 percent of his passes for 905 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Obviously, Rees benefits tremendously from the presence of Michael Floyd, as the star wideout has 73 catches for 916 yards and 10 touchdowns in the 11 games that he has played. As for the UND ground attack, Cierre Woods has emerged as the go-to guy in the absence of Allen, and Woods has rushed for 522 yards.
Considering the fact that Notre Dame played the toughest schedule in the nation during the regular season, it is impressive that the club surrendered only 20.5 ppg to its 12 opponents. The Irish are giving up just 353.2 total ypg, and the fact that they are yielding 4.0 yards per rushing attempt and 10.0 yards per pass completion suggests that they have played well against both means of attack. With 26 sacks and 21 takeaways, Notre Dame has made a decent amount of big plays. Manti Te'o is the man to watch, as the standout linebacker has posted 127 total tackles, including 9.5 TFLs.
Switching focus to Miami, it has enough offensive firepower to give the Fighting Irish fits. The Hurricanes are scoring 27.1 ppg while gaining 422.6 total ypg, and they move the ball effectively both on the ground and through the air. Jacory Harris is the club's quarterback, and he poses very little threat as a runner. Harris does his damage as a passer, and despite missing three games and starting just eight, the veteran signal caller has thrown for 1,756 yards and 14 scores with 12 interceptions.
Miami is fortunate to possess one of the nation's top receivers, as Leonard Hankerson has 66 receptions for 1,085 yards with 12 touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories by a wide margin. As for the running game, Damien Berry checks in with 865 yards and five scores, while Lamar Miller has run for six touchdowns and 633 yards.
Taking a look at the defensive side of the football, Miami is yielding a mere 19.7 ppg and 317.2 total ypg, as the club has been able to hold opponents in check for the most part. The Hurricanes have been tremendous against the pass, permitting fewer than half of the throws that they have faced to be completed. Also worthy of mention is that Miami has posted 16 interceptions, far more than the seven passing touchdowns that it has allowed. Sure, the Hurricanes have given up 19 rushing scores, but they have put forth a decent effort against the run, permitting an average of 4.1 ypc.
Sean Spence is a man to watch for the 'Canes, as he has 17 TFLs to his credit and ranks second on the squad with 101 total tackles. Colin McCarthy is tops with 105 tackles, and Allen Bailey has registered seven sacks.
Give Notre Dame the nod in this bowl game on the basis of stability alone. The Hurricanes have undergone a coaching change and are under the leadership of a lame duck interim in Stoutland. Coach Kelly will end his first season as Irish leader on a high note.