The Hyundai Sun Bowl: Oddsmakers Not Ready To Believe in Irish Against Miami
'Twas the days ere the Sun Bowl, when on the betting lines not a bookie was Irish, candy 'Canes on their minds.
The oddsmakers must be miffed that they didn't get a Christmas card from Brian Kelly because they aren't showing the Irish much holiday cheer.
Despite Notre Dame's three consecutive victories to end its regular season, the current betting line in Las Vegas still places a beleaguered Miami team as the favorite over the Irish by a field goal.
This prediction comes as a bit of surprise, considering the trajectory with which Miami ended its season: After opening its 2010 campaign as the 13th-ranked pre-season team, the Hurricanes ended the season unranked, with bad losses to Virginia (4-8, 1-7 in the ACC) and South Florida (7-5, 3-4 in the Big East).
The South Florida loss was especially crippling to Miami, as the university dismissed head coach Randy Shannon just hours after the game ended. Jeff Stoutland, who served as offensive line coach under Shannon, will be the interim head coach for the bowl game before Al Golden takes over as the full time head coach starting in 2011.
With leadership turmoil and an unstable quarterback position (talented but unpredictable junior Jacory Harris will start for the Hurricanes despite missing three games with a concussion), Miami does not seem primed for a win against a revitalized Notre Dame squad.
However, the Vegas bookies don't get rich with haphazard odds-making. Has Notre Dame done enough to earn the confidence of the college football world?
The defense has certainly been impressive. In the four games following the loss to Navy, the Irish defense was exceptionally stingy, including a stretch of 13 consecutive quarters without allowing an offensive touchdown.
All of that occurred without starting nose tackle Ian Williams, a player Kelly has called Notre Dame's best defensive player.
The offensive line showed similar improvement, allowing only four sacks and helping the Irish rushing attack average 138 net rushing yards over the same stretch of games.
Running back Robert Hughes, previously relegated to a bench role, has been one of the primary benefactors of the new-found green space. Hughes put an exclamation point on his senior season when he carried the Irish offense on his broad shoulders over the goal line in the Coliseum for the winning touchdown against Southern Cal.
So, with several players returning from injury for the Sun Bowl, what's not to like about the Irish?
The most glaring point is that Notre Dame's victories came at the expense of an unintimidating Army team, an arguably overrated Utah team and a Trojan squad neutered of its prior invincibility.
In terms of talent, the Hurricanes are still stocked with a stout pass defense and an effective running game behind an offensive line, led by mammoth right tackle Seantrel Henderson.
However, talent will not be the deciding factor in this game.
Notre Dame is rapidly shedding its old under-performing habits and a Miami team in disarray will be the final validation of Brian Kelly's turnaround in 2010.
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