Going back three weeks for Brian Kelly's Notre Dame team, and the bowl picture was still a hazy one. Coming off an ugly loss to a mid-major program in Tulsa, the Irish were hoping for a berth in any game possible.
Ripping off three impressive wins to close the season (vs. Utah, vs. Army, at USC), Kelly and his Irish are going bowling. And that bowling will come in the form of the Sun Bowl, taking place in El Paso, Texas, on New Year's Eve.
The opponent? Think "Catholics vs. Convicts": Notre Dame vs. Miami (FL).
A match up with one of the more storied pasts, the Irish will look to build on an impressive winning streak while the Hurricanes are looking for a glimmer of hope while remaining coachless. With both teams finishing at 7-5 to end the year, a Sun Bowl victory would be a great way to kick off the 2011 season.
For the Irish, they couldn't have asked for a better bowl pairing. Not only will they get a realistic opportunity to beat a national name on national television, but they have a chance to prove to the nation that they are for real.
If Notre Dame happened to be paired up with, say, an N.C. State or Maryland, there wouldn't be any such luck. However, with a matchup against Miami, attention will be turned to this game. Whichever program comes out on top will not only be working towards building upon this season's resume, but the legitimacy of their team heading into next season.
Although it may be too early to say the Irish may be the favorite in this one, it is safe to say they have a great chance of winning. If they do, Kelly will have the backing of Notre Dame nation and his team will be looking good heading into year two.
The Irish look like they will return much of their 2010 team next year, save a few question marks. Making a statement in the Sun Bowl will go a long way in the mind's of the coaches and poll voters whom will either label the Irish as an up-and-coming team in 2011, or one that is still a year away.
Meanwhile, this is also good news for the 2010 version of the Irish. Taking away a victory from El Paso against a solid program would be the ideal ending for a roller coaster of a season for Kelly in his first year in South Bend.
While all success would not be lost with a loss in this one, it would definetly put a hamper on a stretch in which the Irish showed they are capable of playing good and winning football.