Notre Dame vs. Miami Football: Will the Fighting Irish Survive the Hurricanes?

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Notre Dame vs. Miami Football: Will the Fighting Irish Survive the Hurricanes?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Oct. 15, 1988: Hurricanes and Fighting Irish discuss things before the game. Notre Dame and Miami will talk again soon.

Will an enterprising student print T-shirts with the slogan “Catholics vs. Convicts” for this game? We’ll see. That’s what happened in 1988 when Miami played at Notre Dame Stadium. 

The student, technically, would need to call this one “Catholics vs. Convicts IV: Fun in the Sun Bowl.”   

The '88 game is often listed by sportswriters as a “Game of the Century” candidate. In it, the University of Miami was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and Notre Dame was No. 4.

By selling T-shirts with the slogan on it, the Notre Dame student started the buzz that became the game’s eventual nickname. The national media picked it up, and the rest was Notre Dame-Miami history.

It is, of course, 22 years later, ranked by Notre Dame fans as the No. 1 victory ever at Notre Dame Stadium. Conducted by the school’s own website, the vote shows the Fighting Irish cling to the memory of the game.

Their victory over the Hurricanes spurred the team to a national championship in '88. A lot of people don’t realize this rivalry goes back to 1955. Notre Dame usually handled the Hurricanes in the last game of the season.

This year’s matchup will go down in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on New Year’s Eve. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. EST on CBS. Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson and Tracy Wolfson will announce this fascinating meeting of two of America’s storied programs.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Nov. 27, 2010: Notre Dame head coach Bryan Kelly hugs Tommy Reese in L.A. His spirit has paid off.

They’ve fallen on mediocre times, but it won’t matter to the combatants on the field or fans in the seats. With a capacity of 51,000, standing room only could end up being the mode the stadium has to go into.

About the Miami-Notre Dame rivalry going back to '55—Notre Dame wanted to end each season with a victory in warm weather. That was the word on the streets and in college football circles. It got around to the “U,” apparently.

Miami holds a proud distinction, however, when it comes to Notre Dame football. The Hurricanes are the only program to shut the Irish out in three different eras. The “U” did it during the Ara Parseghian (0-0 in 1965), Gerry Faust (20-0 in 1983) and Lou Holtz (24-0 in 1987) tenures.

The rivalry became ferocious in 1988 after Miami had gained powerhouse status. The Hurricanes routed the Fighting Irish in the 1985 season finale, 58-7. With Miami accused of running up the score, the rivalry heated up. They played their most famous games from 1988-1990.  

In 1988, the Fighting Irish won, 31-30. In '89, Miami won, 27-10, and ended Notre Dame's 23-game winning streak. The rivalry ended in 1990 after the Fighting Irish crushed No. 2 Miami's repeat national championship run, 29-20, in South Bend. The two programs—both multiple national champions—haven't faced off in football since.

They are scheduled to play a match at Soldier Field on Oct. 6, 2012. Starting in 2016, a yearly home-and-home series is set to begin. I already have visions of the possible fireworks to come.

Getty Images/Getty Images
Oct. 15, 1988: Jimmy Johnson stalks the field at Notre Dame Stadium. He may be catching some Sun on Dec. 31.

Fireworks will be flashing on the Rio Grande’s waters after the Sun Bowl game, for sure. The river is about a half mile from the stadium, along with the city of Juárez, Mexico.

In this year’s game, although both the Hurricanes and the Fighting Irish are unranked in the BCS, they have big play "fireworks" potential. They’re going to go at it in the Sun Bowl.

Brian Kelly has accomplished the feat of taking the Fighting Irish to a bowl game in his first season. As the University of Cincinnati’s coach in 2009, he won the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award. Selected by ESPN and ABC analysts, it’s given to college football's top head coach.

Meanwhile, Miami’s former coach, Randy Shannon, is gone but not forgotten. Even his critics have praised his team’s graduation rate. He helped to improve the Hurricanes' image, if nothing else. But fans of the “U” want another national championship and grew impatient.

Patience is a virtue and will be a key to the Sun Bowl game.

Which team is on the rise, and which is spiraling out of control? I suspect it's somewhere in between. Miami fell short of expectations this season, but Notre Dame almost always does—considering their high expectations. Sympathy for Miami—I doubt if the Fighting Irish have it.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Sept. 11, 2010: Randy Shannon (middle) coaches his Hurricanes in Columbus, Ohio. He won't be at the Sun Bowl.

A pat on the back may come, grudgingly, from both teams. It's good for college football's coffers and television ratings, win or lose.

The Hurricanes had wins at Pittsburgh, Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech. They lost at Virginia, South Florida and Ohio State on the road. Florida State and Virginia Tech both beat the "U" on the road in Miami.  

The home loss to their rivals, the Seminoles, 45-17, was the most embarrassing. Miami’s most decisive win of the season was over North Carolina, 33-10.

The Irish (7-5) earned solid wins against Purdue, Pittsburgh, Utah and USC. They lost to Michigan, Tulsa and Stanford in South Bend, Ind., and Michigan State and Navy on the road.

The Irish played Tulsa only three days after Declan Sullivan died. He was the 20-year-old student videographer who was filming the team's practice. On a windy day, the lift he was in fell over, and he was killed.

Notre Dame was understandably distracted by the tragedy, but Tulsa came to play and went on to make the Hawaii Bowl.

After the game, Irish coach Brian Kelly was devastated. “In terms of the tragedy that occurred, there's never been a more difficult time in my life,” he said.

I pray things have gotten better for the Notre Dame and Miami families, and I predict they will. My prediction for this game is unimportant, but I'll give it you.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Dec. 13, 2010: Al Golden addresses the media in Miami. The new coach won't coach at the Sun Bowl.

 

Prediction

Neither team is ranked in the BCS Top 25. Miami (7-5) ranks No. 31 in total offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They’re No. 16 in total defense, but they're No. 81 in rush defense. Notre Dame is ranked No. 96 in FBS rushing offense and No. 63 in total offense.

Advantage: Hurricanes. 

Miami’s interim coach will most likely be offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. 

Advantage: Notre Dame. 

Miami’s roster includes two tailbacks who made the FBS top 100 in terms of average yards rushing per game. 

Damien Berry, who rushed for 865 yards and five touchdowns, was their leading rusher. Lamar Miller had over 630 in this, his freshman season. Notre Dame didn’t have a back in the top 100 FBS rushers. In terms of stopping the run, the Irish were No. 56 among major colleges.  

Advantage: Hurricanes

Notre Dame's passing game ranked No. 29, while Miami came in at No. 49 for yards per game.

Advantage: Notre Dame.  

It looks even on paper, and the intangibles are even because of the rivalry. I believe, though, that the struggling Hurricanes will rally around their interim coach. They'll defeat the Irish, 34-21.

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