Dream Scenario

Matchup of Notre Dame vs. Miami a dream come true for Sun Bowl officials, fans.

Most Irish fans, even those spoiled by prior riches or jaded by the events of recent seasons understand Notre Dame's 7-5 football team benefits from playing in a bowl game.

That doesn't mean a matchup with a Big 12 also-ran, 8-4 Maryland, or even Jon Tenuta and his linebackers at 8-4 NC State would have piqued their interest over Holiday season.

Miami, on the other hand…

"You can't imagine in your wildest imagination how excited we are about this football game," said Sun Bowl Association football chairman John Folmer. "I never thought I'd see the day that (Notre Dame/Miami in the Sun Bowl) would happen."

If you were an Irish or Hurricane fan of football viewing age during the 80s, or especially the decade's final four seasons, there's likely an added pep in your step this Monday morning as well.

ND vs. Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl = vacation opportunity.

ND vs. Miami: anyplace, anywhere, anytime = Must see TV + a DVR setting for posterity.

"This is absolutely unbelievable," added Amen Ayoub, president of the Sun Bowl Association. "This is the greatest game that we've ever put together in the 77-year history of the Sun Bowl, and we're excited to have both universities come to El Paso later this month."

Though he was busy as a graduate assistant and then defensive coordinator at Grand Valley State during the halcyon days of this matchup, Irish head coach Brian Kelly knows well of the matchups ramifications among his new fan base.

"We're excited about the matchup. This will be a great beginning of the series between Miami and the University of Notre Dame.

"The University of Miami has a tradition in the past and the present. When you talk about some of the great programs, Miami is going to be involved in that. Even though the kids weren't alive the last time the two teams played, they do recognize this program. Just walking around, there's a great buzz. Our kids are excited about the matchup."

Miami won or shared national titles in 1983, 1987, 1989 and 1991. Notre Dame interrupted the Hurricanes greatest stretch with a 31-30 upset win in 1988 and continued through its season unscathed to claim the national championship. The Hurricanes returned the favor following the '89 season, breaking Notre Dame's 23-game winning streak in an Orange Bowl season-finale still referenced (or revered) as the most hostile setting for opposing fans in (world?) Irish history.

The programs will also meet in Soldier Field in October 2012 then again with a home-and-home series in 2016-17.

For Kelly, a New Year's Eve bowl (kickoff set for 2 PM EST on CBS) is a welcomed respite and opportunity following a difficult first year at the helm.

"(This season) was the greatest challenge (of my career)," Kelly said in Sunday's conference call. "It took all 20 years of my experience to make sure that we got through this in the right manner. We feel like we've learned a lot from this year."

The Irish aren't the only Sun Bowl participant to encounter trying times in 2010. ranked No. 13 in the pre-season, Miami won five of its first seven before dropping three of its final five including two straight to end the season.

It was enough to oust former 80s linebacker and fourth-year head coach Randy Shannon at season's end. In his stead steps offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland as the program's interim.

The Notre Dame football team's mental state was questioned in late October; similar wonder exists entering bowl season for the ‘Canes.

"This will bring tremendous focus and a lot of enthusiasm to the practices," said Stoutland of what he admitted was a confused group of student-athletes. "When I found out we were going to play Notre Dame…I can't tell you how excited I was, personally. I have unbelievable respect for that program and always have.

"To have a chance to play against Coach Kelly and his team, Notre Dame, it couldn't be any better."

"I've committed everything we have to taking care of the kids," he continued. "Right now, I'm anxious to get out onto the field with the team. The most important thing is to get everybody back together, get out on the field and get our timing back."

Programs are allowed 15 practice sessions after accepting a bowl invitation. With Kelly expected to continue on the recruiting trail early this week, Notre Dame's first three sessions will involve Strength & Conditioning before the team works its schedule around final exams at the University, December 13-16.

Miami's exams begin Wednesday and conclude Tuesday the 14th. Stoutland noted the team would practice Monday (today) and Tuesday, then again Friday though none of the sessions would be as heavy as a standard practice.

Billed as "Catholics vs. Convicts" in the late 80s, the two programs shared the 2009 Academic Achievement Award from the American Football Coaches Association, The trophy recognizes graduate rate successes among 120 FBS teams and both the Irish and the ‘Canes achieved a 100 percent graduation rate.

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