Notre Dame and Rutgers square off today in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium. The game will do little for ND's program relative national recognition but it does give the Irish program exposure during the long bowl season. ND blew its chance for high-profile bowl game with the loss to Pittsburgh. The loss to Stanford just put the final nail in the season.
The only pluses for the Irish and head coach Brian Kelly in playing in the Pinstripe bowl is the money, about a $1.9 million payout per team, and the extra practices the Irish were allowed in preparing for the game. In fact, Kelly probably felt better about the extra practice time than the game.
The Irish blew several chances in the final at Stanford for a victory, mostly due to turnovers made by quarterback Tommy Rees. It was not a very nice goodbye to ND in his regular season finale. He has a chance to make up for it today.
Rutgers, which will become a member of the Big 10 next year, enters the game with a 6-6 record. The wins have come over Norfolk State, 38-0; Eastern Michigan, 28-10; Arkansas, 28-24; SMU, 55-52, in three overtimes; Temple, 23-20; and USF, 31-6 in the final regular season game. The losses have been to Fresno State, 52-51 in overtime; Louisville, 24-10; Houston, 49-14; Cincinnati, 52-17; UCF, 41-17; and Connecticut, 28-17.
The Knights are led on offense by running backs Paul James, who has 866 yards rushing on 146 carries and nine touchdowns for the season; and Justin Goodwen, 547 on 108 and five scores. Quarterback Gary Novo has completed 165 of 303 passes for 18 TD's and 14 interceptions. Top receivers are Tyler Krapf with 40 catches and 500 yards and four scores; and Brandon Coleman, 473 on 32 and three scores.
Rutgers averages 133.7 yards rushing per game and 242.2 passing per game.
ND leads the short series, 4-0. The last time they played was 2002 in South Bend, with the final, 42-0.
The game is on ESPN with a 12:15 p.m. scheduled kickoff.
IRISH NOTES: Catching up with happenings since the Stanford game. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has taken the head job at Connecticut while offensive coordinator Chuck Martin took the head job at Miami of Ohio. Neither spot has been filled as yet by Kelly. Assistant coaches will handle the positions for today's game.... Star defensive end Stephon Tuitt has not yet decided if he will forgo his fifth year and enter the NFL draft. He has until Jan. 15 to decide. He said the departure of Diaco will not affect his decision ... ND will have five players in uniform today all from the state of New Jersey. In fact, linebacker Carlo Calabrese got his first scholarship offer from Rutgers. His family resides about 40 miles from the Rutgers' campus. Rutgers has over 40 players on their roster from New Jersey ... Exiled ND quarterback Everett Golson was been readmitted to ND for the January semester. He will be eligible to return for the spring football drills and battle Malik Zaire for the starting position. Golson, according to Kelly and other media reports, does not have the starting job back. He must earn it and from what I have heard Zaire has impressed Kelly and staff with his play in practices. Zaire will be a re-shirted sophomore which means he has four full years of eligibility left. Backup Andrew Hendrix will not be in the mix. He has fifth year eligibility and has asked for his release from ND so go to another school for his final year. Per NCAA rules he will be able to play immediately and will not have to sit out a year. He realizes his chances of starting or getting much playing time next year will be very limited with Golson and Zaire battling for the starting spot ... Kelly went to Golson's home recently to welcome him back and told the South Bend Tribune about the player's physical transformation. He was 178 pounds on a six-foot frame when he last played for ND. He is now over 200 pounds, but weight gain ins not fat but sheer muscle, according to Kelly. He has two years of eligibility left .... ND landed some more recruits in the past weeks. Tight end Tyler Luatua of La Mirada, Calif., was the 22nd commitment for Kelly for the 2014 class. He is the second TE to commit, joining Nick Weishar. Before Luatua's commitment, ND landed two top linebackers in Niles Sykes and Kolin Hill. Sykes is a 6-1 and 219 pounder from Montini Catholic in Lombard, Ill., and Hill is a 6-2 and 222 pounder from Clemens High in Schertz, Texas. Out of the three, Luatua is considered a prize catch for Kelly ... ND finally announced its schedule for next three years. In 2014 the Irish open at home on Labor Day weekend facing Rice, Aug. 30. The Irish then are home with Michigan on Sept. 6 at night (final game between the schools for some time), then the Shamrock Series home away from home game with Purdue played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sept. 13. The remaining home games are North Carolina, Oct. 1; Stanford on Oct. 4; Northwestern, Nov. 15; and Louisville, Nov. 22. Away games include Sept. 27 with Syracusee in the MetLife stadium in East Ruterford, N.J,., home of the NFL Giants; Florida State, Oct. 18; Navy at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., home of the NFL Redskins, Nov. 1; at Arizona State, Nov. 8; and at USC on Nov. 29. That's a pretty tough schedule with the likes of Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC. Kelly's coaching ability will be tested ... Five ND seniors will be playing in postseason all-star type games. Fifth year senior Zack Martin will play in the Reese's Senior Bowl on Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. in Mobile, Ala., on the NFL network. It's a game that draws a lot of attention from NFL scouts. Four other Irish players will play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 18 in Tropiana Field, St. Petersbugh, Fla., on ESPN. They are cornerback Bennett Jackson, wide receiver TJ Jones, quarterback Tommy Rees, and outside linebacker Prince Shembo ....ND is a 15-plus point favorite today. The Irish should win this one. I'm for one hoping that Rees has a good final game in an Irish uniform. He has taken a lot of heat over the years from ND fans and I truly hope he has an outstanding game today. Thanks for reading this column, Happy New Year, and hope to be back in August 2014. Go Irish.