Notre Dame would like to close out a mostly disappointing year with a victory at the site of some of the greatest moments in its storied history. Rutgers certainly wants to claim a winning record the season before it moves to a tougher conference.
The No. 25 Irish and Scarlet Knights meet in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
A season after a stunning run to the BCS title game, Notre Dame endured an uneven year. A four-game winning streak left the Irish at 7-2 on Nov. 2 before they dropped two of their last three.
Notre Dame (8-4) nearly rallied from 15 down at then-No. 8 Stanford in its regular-season finale Nov. 30 before falling 27-20. The Irish closed to within four after three quarters, but Tommy Rees threw two interceptions late in the fourth.
"Not good enough obviously. Proud of the guys and my teammates and how we fought all year but you don't come to Notre Dame to go 8-4, and everyone understands that," said Rees, who took over when last season's starter Everett Golson was suspended for a semester due to academic reasons. "You have to be better."
The Irish were chosen for the four-year-old Pinstripe Bowl after the Big 12 finished without enough bowl-eligible teams. Nonetheless, Notre Dame will add another chapter to its history in the Bronx, where it last played Nov. 20, 2010, beating longtime rival Army 27-3.
The Irish played some famous games at the old Yankee Stadium, including in 1928 against Army when coach Knute Rockne gave his famous "Win one for the Gipper" speech. No. 1 Army and No. 2 Notre Dame played the Game of the Century there in 1946 in a game that featured four Heisman Trophy winners and ended in a 0-0 tie.
Coach Brian Kelly said the Irish are looking forward to returning.
"We were privileged to play in New York City and Yankee Stadium in 2010. The treatment our university received from the Steinbrenner family, the New York Yankees and the entire organization was unlike anything we've experienced in my tenure at Notre Dame," he said.
Next season the Irish will be part of the ACC bowl lineup, which will include the Pinstripe Bowl.
Rutgers (6-6) ended the season in even more lackluster fashion than Notre Dame, needing to defeat South Florida 31-6 on Dec. 7 to become bowl eligible and end a three-game losing streak. The Scarlet Knights earned their eighth bowl bid in nine years, but hardly put together a strong season in the AAC before their move to the Big Ten for next season.
"We came out today and it was do or die," said running back Paul James, who rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns. "We were fighting to get to that bowl game. Now that we are there everyone is excited and happy to get there."
It may not be a pleasant experience for the Scarlet Knights if they don't play better defense. They shut down woeful South Florida, but Rutgers gave up an average of 38.0 points in the previous seven games, and its 311.4 passing yards allowed per contest is among the worst marks in the nation.
The Scarlet Knights have given up 3,596 yards through the air, the most in school history.
That could spell trouble against Rees, who passed for 2,938 yards and 27 touchdowns with a 138.1 rating. TJ Jones paced the Irish receiving corps with 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns.
Despite the less-than-spectacular seasons from the Irish and Scarlet Knights, they seem likely to play before a large and enthusiastic crowd. Notre Dame has a significant fan base in the New York City area to go along with Rutgers' proximity to the game site.
The Notre Dame-Army matchup in 2010 drew a Yankee Stadium-record crowd for football of 54,251. Both schools have sold out their ticket allotments of about 10,000 apiece.
"It's a really attractive matchup," embattled second-year Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "It will certainly be an attractive matchup for their fan base and I think it will be attractive to just the casual college sports fan that wants to see an event and to get an opportunity to go watch a football game in Yankee Stadium, one of the premiere venues in the world."
Chas Dodd is likely to make his third straight start at quarterback for the Scarlet Knights since replacing Gary Nova. Dodd went 19 of 24 for 179 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against South Florida.
James ran for team highs of 833 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Notre Dame has won all four games against Rutgers in a series that dates to 1921, the most recent matchup being a 42-0 home victory Nov. 23, 2002.
In a game that will excite its New York fan base, Notre Dame is coming to the Bronx to take on Rutgers. The Irish look to rebound from a loss to Stanford in Tommy Rees' final college game. Rutgers knocked off USF to become bowl-eligible after losing three straight.
Tommy Rees failed to throw a touchdown pass today against Rutgers. Rees had thrown at least 1 pass TD in all 12 games this season entering today. Rutgers entered the game having allowed 31 pass TD this season, T-117th in the nation out of 123 FBS teams.