Dec. 28, noon ET, Bronx, N.Y. (ESPN)
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS BREAKDOWN
Kyle Flood will get a chance to rewrite the ending to what has been a disappointing second season at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights routed USF in the regular-season finale Saturday to snap a three-game losing streak and clinch bowl eligibility. Awaiting the future Big Ten school in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl? Future partial ACC member Notre Dame, in a bowl that just happens to feature Big Ten and ACC ties moving forward.
The Scarlet Knights clinched a share of the Big East title last season and looked in position to achieve similar success in their final year in the American Athletic Conference after a 4-1 start, with the only loss coming in overtime at Fresno State in the season opener.
But they dropped five of their next six games before winning Saturday, with Chas Dodd starting the final two contests at quarterback in place of Gary Nova. Dodd was mediocre in a loss at UConn before turning a strong outing on senior day, and he received a great performance from his defense.
But that was an outlier in a season that ended up costing coordinator Dave Cohen his job on Sunday. Rutgers surrendered 50-plus points three different times, and 40-plus points five times. The post-Christmas matchup with the Irish will be the program's final tune-up before it moves on to the Big Ten next season, and though AD Julie Hermann gave Flood a vote of confidence, Rutgers has shown little sign this season that it is ready for the step up in competition.
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH BREAKDOWN
An 8-4 season was not what Notre Dame had in mind after running the table in the regular season in 2012. But the Irish are hoping that the New Era Pinstripe Bowl can give their senior class a chance to go out on a high note.
The winningest senior class in nearly two decades is credited in large part with helping turn the program around, making eight-win seasons such as this one a bigger disappointment than they had been. And despite losing four games, the class helped Notre Dame win some notable contests this season.
The Irish were the only team to beat Michigan State in the regular season. Their victory over Arizona State grew more impressive by the week. So, too, did their victory over USC, as they missed Tommy Rees for much of the second half because of injury, but their defense stepped up to shut out the Trojans over the game's final 30 minutes. It was Notre Dame’s third victory over its rival in the teams' past four meetings.
The biggest steps back for Notre Dame this season came from the running game and defense. The backfield wasn’t consistently productive and the defense missed four starters from last year much more than initially anticipated. Season-ending injuries to Louis Nix, Jarrett Grace and Ben Councell did not help, and Stephon Tuitt and Sheldon Day were rarely healthy at the same time as Nix, rendering the defensive line thin.
Still, with the return of suspended quarterback Everett Golson imminent, a victory in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl could initiate some momentum toward a promising future.