It's not an exhibition -- it counts, both statistically and on the W/L ledger.
And in the case of 8-4 Notre Dame, the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl is -- pending your half-full or half-empty glass -- arguably less relevant than the team's 2013 season-opener vs. lowly Temple.
Reasonable minds can agree to disagree on the merits of either case.
But it's difficult to argue the result of the upcoming game in Yankee Stadium will have any bearing on Notre Dame's 2014 campaign.
Rising from the AshesTwo of Notre Dame's five best teams of the last quarter century followed seasons in which the Irish not only lost their bowl game, but ended the year on a losing skid.
1987 Cotton Bowl -- Texas A&M 35 Notre Dame 10: Ranked No. 7 with two games to play, 8-1 Notre Dame -- winners of five straight including a 37-6 pummeling of No. 10 Alabama -- Lou Holtz's Irish traveled to State College for a matchup against unranked Penn State. Notre Dame lost 21-20 with a failed two-point conversion pass by backup Kent Graham (inserted in Tony Rice's stead for the play), was intercepted.
The Irish lost 24-0 the following week at national runner-up Miami then completed a late-season swoon with a surprising 35-10 defeat at the hands of No. 13 Texas A&M. Notre Dame limped into the off-season with three consecutive losses and a drop from No. 7 to No. 17 in the final A.P. Poll -- they won 23 straight thereafter including a 12-0 mark in 1988 to claim the school's most recent national title.
2011 Champs Sports Bowl -- FSU 18 ND 14: Winners of four straight albeit against lesser foes, the 8-3, 22nd-ranked Irish fell in the regular season finale to No. 4 Stanford, 28-14, then lost to No. 25 Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, 18-14.
Brian Kelly's Irish "rebounded" to win 12 straight to begin 2012 and earn a No. 1 ranking at season's end with a berth in the 2013 BCS Championship Game, a 42-14 loss to Alabama.
Springboard...to an Autumn FallHistory also shows that winter time Notre Dame triumphs -- and good vibes throughout the ensuing spring -- mean little when a new squad takes the field in the fall.
2008 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: A 4-2 Notre Dame team drops four of its last six including a 38-3 humiliation at rival USC. The Irish rebound to blowout host Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, 49-21. Notre Dame -- not to mention quarterback Jimmy Clausen -- picks up where it left off in the 2009 season opener, humbling upstart Nevada 35-0. The Irish win just five of their next 11 and Charlie Weis' final season ends without a bowl bid.
2010 Sun Bowl Streaking (relatively speaking) with three straight wins to finish the regular season 7-5, Notre Dame pummels former rival Miami, 33-17, at one point leading 30-3. After a 4-5 start, Kelly and the Irish won their last four, engendering good vibes -- No. 16 national ranking -- entering 2011. They began the ensuing season 0-2.
1993 Cotton Bowl: With just two losses in its last 23 outings, No. 4 Notre Dame holds off No. 7 Texas A&M, 24-21. The Irish finish No. 2 in the national polls behind Florida State, a team with an identical 11-1 record. Both teams lost after mid-November, the Irish to No. 16 Boston College, the Seminoles at Notre Dame. Holtz's Irish begin 1994 ranked No. 3, win easily in the opener over Northwestern, but manage just five victories in their next 11 en route to a 6-5-1 finish.
Overmatched and unranked, Notre Dame loses its bowl game in blowout fashion, 41-24 to No. 4 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite finishing 1-2-1 and losing the season-opener in 1995, Notre Dame returns to "BCS" (then simply referred to as "New Year's Day") bowl status, winning nine of their next 10 games.
Five disparate end season scenarios evolved into varied ensuing season results.
What does this mean for potential 2014 successes or failure thereafter?
Nothing. And neither does the Pinstripe Bowl.
Losing to Rutgers would mean Brian Kelly's fourth season in South Bend ranks (inarguably?) as his worst to date. But it would have little to no impact on what will be a much different Notre Dame team -- one with approximately 48 freshmen and sophomores on its roster -- for 2014.
Beating Rutgers is important in terms of semantics (9-4 looks better on paper than 8-5, especially with two 8-5 seasons already on the head coach's ledger), and because
Beating Rutgers means Notre Dame's seniors can go out as the winningest Irish class since the 1991 freshmen (37 wins apiece).
And beating Rutgers means Notre Dame didn't lose to Rutgers, a 15-point underdog and 6-6 team that finished sixth in the American Athletic Conference. Whatever that is.
Outgoing Irish seniors and the team's fans need a win to end 2013. No more, no less.