The NCAA allows teams to hold 15 practice sessions in preparation for bowl games. But with recruiting, final exams and the timing of the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, Notre Dame will get in just 10 practices before its game on Christmas Eve.
Charlie Weis and his staff went out recruiting immediately following the regular season finale at Southern California and Weis did not return to South Bend until last Thursday. Notre Dame held its football banquet on Friday before practicing on Saturday and Sunday.
The coaches went back on the road to recruit this week before returning for practice on Friday and Saturday. The Irish started their preparations for Hawai'i in earnest with special teams on Friday and will work on first and second down on Saturday.
Notre Dame will hold final exams next week and the Irish will squeeze in practices on Thursday and Friday before leaving for Honolulu on Friday evening. The Irish will have four practices in Hawai'i before the game on Dec. 24.
Hawai'i has a similar situation concerning their practice schedule with coaches recruiting and final exams next week, but it is unclear if playing at home will allow the Warriors to make up their practices.
There are pros and cons of missing out on five available practices, but it is clear that Weis and the players see more pros than cons in their schedule.
"I think it's actually been pretty helpful. We get to focus on academics because obviously it's not easy around here. There's a lot of people who it's crunch time for around here and we've got to get our work done," senior defensive lineman Patrick Kuntz said.
"Secondly, it lets us get away from football and kind of be regular students and let our bodies heal up a little bit and get some recovery time. Sure, there's negatives where you can get rusty, lose a step, but I think overall it's better for us."
Sophomore linebacker Brian Smith has seen the team respond positively to the situation.
"It's been challenging. The first day there is always some rust you've got to knock off, but after you knock the rust off the next day (is better)," he said. "Like last week, we knocked the rust off on Saturday and we came in Sunday and it was all systems go. It was one of the most spirited practices that we've had in awhile."
Sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen admitted that it has been a bit difficult, but has been able to keep himself in the right frame of mind.
"You get a little rusty. Last week we didn't practice for a whole week and same thing this week… But it's all right," he said. "I come in and watch tape. We have to work out two days a week. We're just working out, running, lifting and watching tape."
Senior safety Kyle McCarthy said that the team has used the downtime to get healthier and have better practices.
"It's nice to let your body heal up a little bit from the long season because the wear and tear of 12 games really gets at you sometimes," he said. "It's been nice to get in the weight room and heal your bumps and bruises. The practices that we've had have been really spirited and physical so I think it's been good for our team."
Freshman cornerback Robert Blanton agreed with his veteran member of the secondary.
"You get a nice little rest in your body and then you come back and hit it hard for two days. You get a nice little rest in your body and come back and hit it hard for two days," he said. "Sometimes the best thing is rest."
Sophomore receiver Golden Tate said that the schedule allows the team to get more done in practice without sacrificing much.
"It's been fun because we've been doing a lot of team," he said. "It's good to have days off from practice because it gives your legs a chance to rest and you can focus on schoolwork. You can actually sit down and have time think about personal things."
We won't know for sure if this practice schedule is best for the Irish until after the bowl game. Really not until more than a month after the game when Signing Day comes and we find out if the staff's recruiting efforts bear fruit, but it is clear that, at least for now, Notre Dame is convinced that this is the way to go.