NCF Nation: 2010 Hyundai Sun Bowl

Is there a more anticipated matchup between 7-5 teams this bowl season then Notre Dame vs. Miami? These two programs have the name, but do they still have the game? We'll find out Friday in El Paso, Texas.

WHO TO WATCH: The Notre Dame offensive line. The Irish front played pretty well down the stretch, including against a talent-laden USC defense. They'll be facing another batch of future pros in the Hurricanes, who are led by fearsome defensive end Allen Bailey. Left tackle Zack Martin has been the team's most consistent blocker, while right tackle Taylor Dever has shown great improvement. They will be challenged on the edges to create time for freshman quarterback Tommy Rees. The last thing Notre Dame wants is for Rees to be hurried and force throws that the athletic Hurricanes can go after.

WHAT TO WATCH: The secondaries for each team. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris throws to opposing defensive backs almost as much as he does his own receivers, so Gary Gray and Darrin Walls could get their hands on some balls in this game. On the flip side, star Irish receiver Michael Floyd could be playing his last game in college, and if so, this will be a great audition for NFL scouts against standout Hurricanes cornerback Brandon Harris. If Rees has time, he'll likely look to Floyd as much as possible.

WHY TO WATCH: Nostalgia, if nothing else. Neither of these teams are vintage editions of themselves, but the uniforms still conjure up memories of Catholics vs. Convicts. Notre Dame can write a terrific ending to Brian Kelly's first season after winning their final three regular-season games. Bowl-game victories are overrated as boosts into the following season, but the Irish can use all the positive momentum they can find.

PREDICTION: It's debatable whether or not regular-season finishes carry over into the postseason, but Notre Dame certainly has a lot better vibes than Miami. The Hurricanes faltered down the stretch, fired Randy Shannon and went to El Paso with an interim coach and questions at quarterback. They probably have more top-shelf talent than Notre Dame, but that hasn't helped Miami much in the recent past. The Irish are more stable at this point, and that's enough for a close 24-21 win.

Notre Dame mailbag

December, 23, 2010
Santa has come early with a quick Notre Dame mailbag before the holidays. Ho, ho, Te'o!

Wes M. from Georgetown, Ky., writes: Do you think Bob Diaco will scheme against Jacory Harris like the Bears did against Vick? Focus on keeping outside contain and push him back to the middle of the pocket and hopefully hurry him into more bad throws.

Brian Bennett: Harris is no Vick. And from what I've seen from him this year, you don't necessarily need to pressure him to make bad throws -- he does it anyway. We're not even sure if Harris will start this game, but as solid as the Notre Dame defense was the final month of the season, I like the matchup for the Irish.

Brendan D. from New York City writes: With next year's quarterback situation a bit up in the air, what are your predictions about starting QB? Do you believe that Dayne Crist will be the starter or will we see Rees, Hendrix, or even Everett Golson at the helm. (This is just a very early prediction of course.)

Brian Bennett: I think that if Crist comes back healthy, he will regain his starting role. Brian Kelly just really likes his leadership. However, I would see it as a tenuous hold on the role at best, especially with the way Tommy Rees has played. Competition there could be a very good thing for all involved next year.

Ed B. from Claymont, Del., writes: How did the Champs Sports Bowl not take ND? The won't get another shot at ND with Kelly's track record? ND will be in the BCS the next three years.

Brian Bennett: I admire your optimism, Ed. The Champs Sports people rolled the dice, figuring they could get a better but not quite BCS-level Notre Dame team in the next three years. Of course, they run the risk not only of the Irish going to the BCS in that period, but also that the Irish could fail to reach bowl eligibility. The Sun and Gator bowls got shut out of Notre Dame during their four-year agreement. The Champs Sports folks also thought a ranked West Virginia team would bring a lot of fans, but ticket sales have been very slow. They must be rethinking that now, though I think things worked out quite nicely for Notre Dame with a juicy Hyundai Sun Bowl matchup.

Vic from Ft. Collins, Colo., writes: How is it year after year that ND is ranked in the top 25 in the preseason polls? The team hasn't proven that they seserve that respect at all.

Brian Bennett: Well, I disagree with your premise. In the past four preseason polls, Notre Dame has been ranked just once. Perhaps you're thinking of the Rockne years?

Marcus from Portland, Ore., writes: Is Notre Dame still relevant? Before beating Hawaii the last time they won a bowl game was 1994. Who cares anymore?

Brian Bennett: Well, Marcus, obviously you do, since you live in Portland yet took time out of your day to send an e-mail to the Notre Dame blog. Hmmm.

Glenn M. from Naples, Fla., writes: Notre Dame has to join a big conference to be relevant again. I know the reasons why not but look at Notre Dame's weak schedule, lack of player focus when you get two losses, recruiting for a nonconference schedule and much more. Haven't they seen what joining the BIG EAST has done for the hoops program?

Brian Bennett: Weak schedule, huh? The NCAA says that Notre Dame played the toughest schedule in America this year. Lack of focus? I guess, if you mean by the way the Irish won their past three games playing their best football of the season. Recruiting star players hasn't been a problem except at a few key positions, and I don't think joining a league would do anything to change that. And if you think Notre Dame basketball and Notre Dame football are the same animal, you don't know your Harangody from a hole in the ground.

Merry Christmas, everybody!