Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's Always Sunny In El Paso

Well, it should always be sunny in El Paso but that will not likely be the case this Friday, December 31 as Notre Dame and Miami renew their once heated rivalry in the 2010 Sun Bowl.

In their first meeting since 1990, Notre Dame and Miami will face off in El Paso in what is expected to be chilling weather with highs in the mid 40s and lows in the mid 20s. For kickers, there is also a slight chance of rain or snow. One would expect that sort of weather when the two teams meet at Soldier Field in 2012 in Chicago,  but not in Texas.

Aside from the weather being a touch 'off' the two teams are also nowhere near the level of competition like when they last met in 1990 - a shocking 29-20 Irish victory that knocked Miami out of national championship contention.

Miami is in the midst of a coaching change after former head coach Randy Shannon was let go hours after finishing the regular season at 7-5 for failing to return the once proud program to prominence. He will be replaced by interim head coach Jeff Stoutland in the bowl game. Stoutland previously served as offensive line coach for the Hurricanes. 

Notre Dame also finished the season with a 7-5 record in what many deemed as a disappointment given their 'easy' schedule. Yet, the NCAA's view on the matter was that the Notre Dame had the toughest schedule this past year and the Irish closed out the season on a hot streak by winning its final three games. None of those victories was more important or provided more momentum heading into the bowl game than the 20-16 victory over USC in the finale. 

Suffice it to say, though, neither team is in the upper echelon of the college football landscape today. Notre Dame has not won a national title since 1988 and while Miami won one in 2002 they have fallen on tough times recently, posting a 28-22 record under Shannon's leadership.

Going back to 1988, Lou Holtz's Notre Dame team beat Jimmy Johnson's Miami squad 31-30 in what many (Irish) fans dubbed Catholics vs. Convicts. The following year, the Hurricanes exacted their revenge by beating #1 Notre Dame 27-10 en route to their own national title.

Fast forward to the 2010 Sun Bowl and it appeared that Catholics vs. "Coachless" would be a fitting nickname for the renewed rivalry. Miami, however, quickly announced the hire of Al Golden who resigned from his head coaching gig at Temple to welcome the opportunity and rich tradition brought by the Hurricanes.

Jump ahead to 2:17 in the following video to see video footage of the famous pre-game tunnel fight from the 1988 game.

Due to the intensity exhibited not only by fights like the one displayed above but also the hostility between each schools' fans Notre Dame administrators felt it was necessary to end the rivalry after the last matchup in 1990.

Now that there has been some time to cool off fans at both schools welcome the opportunity to rekindle the rivalry a few years ahead of the next regular season contest.

For Irish fans, there is the opportunity to not only build on the positive momentum from the end of the season winning streak but also that of its last bowl win, a drubbing victory in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl over Hawaii.

For 'Canes fans, a new chapter is about to be written with head coach Al Golden starting next year - he will not coach in the bowl game - so what better way is there to begin that chapter than winning a bowl game?

It will be the 24th meeting all-time between the two universities, with Notre Dame holding a 15-7-1 advantage.

Brian Kelly's Irish squad could be slightly more motivated coming off the heals of three straight victories and the Hurricanes in turmoil with the coaching change. The Irish are not without their own distractions, though, with WR Michael Floyd and TE Kyle Rudolph contemplating early NFL careers and WR Duval Kamara not making the trip due to "personal reasons." A few key players return from injury though, with Theo Riddick providing a boost for the receiving corps and the physically imposing Ian Williams providing even more strength to a defense brimming with confidence.

Jeff Stoutland has his own personnel issues with a quarterback conundrum. Jacory Harris was at one time a Heisman trophy contender but he struggled throughout the year and relinquished his starting role to freshman Stephen Morris after sustaining a head injury in the Virginia game - an embarrassing loss to the ACC's bottom-feeding Cavaliers.

Morris played well enough to stir a debate as to who should start in the bowl game, but as fate would have it he injured himself today during practice, therefore surrendering the starting quarterback job to Harris.

As final preparations are made by each team anticipation rises amongst both fan bases, eager to see if the season finale can prime a jump started 2011 season. Look no further than the record-setting sellout to see how interested fans are in this middle-tier bowl game.

Tune in on CBS at 2pm EST to catch the 2010 Sun Bowl and to whet your appetite check out this documentary on the 1988 game. 


Justin Cates said...

You lost me when you implied that Miami has fans. Just watch one of their home games and you'll see what I mean.

Brian said...

Believe it or not, Miami actually sold out their allotment within the first 36 hours of announcing the game...


They apparently do have fans.

Justin Cates said...

That's pretty good actually, though I think that's approximately the max attendance at their games most times.


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