Is the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl the last game of the 2008 season or the first game of the 2009 season?
If you ask Charlie Weis, it's both.
"Within one team you have two different mentalities going on," he said.
The players that will be in their last games at Notre Dame have one motivation, while those who will be back have another.
"I think that (the seniors) would like walking out of the door to say that they were part of the team that put that bowl losing streak behind them," said Weis. "For everyone else who aspires to play in greater games down the road, they can't look at this as the last game of this past year, they have to look it at kind of as the first game of next year."
It is clear that Weis has got that message to his team.
"Two things," said senior safety Kyle McCarthy, who could come back for a fifth year. "One is to end the season on a good note with a winning record with a good taste in our mouths and also as a springboard into next year. Getting everyone ready for the offseason because this is without a doubt going to be a big offseason for our program and our team."
Senior defensive lineman Patrick Kuntz will exhaust his eligibility against Hawai'i, but also sees the dual meaning around the game.
"For the seniors and everybody leaving like me and Mo (Crum) and Justin (Brown) and David (Grimes) and guys like that, it's important for us to leave on a good note. It's always good no matter what situation to end your season on a win," Kuntz said. "It helps us send momentum into the future for our other teammates who are going to be coming back and end this bowl streak where we haven't won a game in a long time."
Sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen is looking at the bowl game as a chance to get 2009 started early.
"We're going out there for one reason and that's to win the game and get us ready to go for next year," he said. "It's huge. The reason we're going out there is to beat Hawai'i and give us a springboard into next year and get ready to go."
Weis has explained to his team how a win in this game could carry over to 2009.
"Coach Weis made a point in a meeting that if you're a fifth-year senior you want to get this ship righted for the guys behind you," Brian Smith said. "If you're a younger guy, like a freshman that's out there playing, you want to be one of the guys who set the tone for next year. I'm definitely following that boat of one of those guys who needs to set the tone for next year.
"First, we want to win our bowl and end this nine-year losing streak of bowls. We want to end that first and foremost and once that gets out of the way and we win the game, we've got to focus on, ‘Hey, we got off the boat on the right way and now we need to focus on next year and getting better.'"
Golden Tate believes that a win will show that Notre Dame is headed in the right direction.
"It's huge," he said. "We go into the offseason another step ahead of where we were last year and gives us a reason to work hard and get ready for the season."
McCarthy agrees that a win will give the Irish a boost before the 2009 season ever starts.
"I think it's real important because when people are in a good mood and people are optimistic about the things going on and the future, it makes it that much easier to get up at 5:30 in the morning and make the trek across campus to work out," he said. "When we're working out it makes it a little easier to give it all you've got and you know that the reward next year is going to be worth it."
But first the Irish need to beat Hawai'i.
The Warriors have the same a wide-open offensive attack, but it has changed a bit with the graduation of quarterback Colt Brennan.
"So much of their offense was just dependent on Colt in the past. He's slinging it all over the yard at very high efficiency," said Weis. "What they've been able to do with their offense now is when you take that superstar quarterback out of the mix I think that everyone on their offense has kind of picked up the slack.
"They're not afraid to hand the ball off on a zone-read play. I think that offensively they have a nice, little package. They're going to spread you out and they're going to play in space."
Hawai'i's offense has been compared to the Purdue unit that Notre Dame faced earlier in the season, but Weis said there are differences between Hawai'i quarterback Greg Alexander and Purdue's Curtis Painter.
"This quarterback is pretty athletic, probably more athletic than what we were dealing with there because he's not afraid to pull the ball down and he throws pretty well out of the pocket," said Weis. "But as far as the offensive philosophy, I think that's a pretty good analogy."
Weis said that the Warriors will not do as much disguising as other teams, but they will come after you.
"They don't try to trick you on defense. They try to line up with their four-man front and try to get after you," he said. "They will bring some pressure like everyone does against us. But I don't think they try to trick you on defense, they just try to line up and get after you. We're going to have to play well to win."
Hawai'i has 34 sacks in 13 games and whether or not the Irish offensive line is able to hold up against the Warriors' pressure could determine the game.
"The thing they do the best is rush the passer. You don't have 30-plus sacks for a team if you're not getting after the passer," Weis said of Greg McMackin's defensive unit. "He's got a lot of fast guys and he lets them run to the ball."
Weis has been especially impressed with what he has seen from Hawai'i linebacker Solomon Elimimian.
"That middle linebacker covers a lot of sins too because he's a guy that makes up for a lot of stuff. He's a nice solid player for them," he said. "It starts with the pressure up front, I think they do a pretty good job of that."
Weis understands why the Warriors have such a strong homefield advantage, but believes some of that will be negated by the fact that his team will have been on the island for four full days by game time.
"You fly into this venue in a short time frame, besides acclimating yourself to the weather, there's a lot of distractions for a team flying in here. Fortunately for us that's not the way it is, it's not a one-day turnaround. It gives you a chance to kind of get acclimated to the whole environment," he said. "You can see why their record is as dynamic as it's been here playing at home. People come here, how can you be worrying about football when you're just flying in on a Thursday night or a Friday getting ready to play a football game? It would be tough. I'm glad we don't do this on a regular basis."
Notre Dame knows that it will be playing in the Warriors' home stadium and that the fast surface could help the home team, but Weis is still hoping for a sellout.
"I'd be happy for every seat in the stadium to be taken," he said. "I'll take an open-air stadium with 50,000 rather than sitting in that dome down there in New Orleans with 80,000 and about 75,000 of them all rooting for LSU. I'll take that any day of the week."
The only thing that Weis is truly hoping for is a win.
"When I'm sitting here on Christmas Eve after the game with my wife and kid, waiting for Santa and his sleigh to pull up, I want to have a smile on my face," he said. "I won't be the happiest camper if it goes the other way."
Notre Dame 34, Hawai'i 21: Jimmy Clausen and Michael Floyd reconnect for a number of completions, including the game's first score in the opening quarter. Clausen looks more like the player he did in the first half of the season than the one Irish fans saw over the last couple of months. Notre Dame's running game does not dominate, but with Clausen, Floyd, Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph, the Irish are able to prevail through the air. The Warriors also start fast with an early touchdown, but the Notre Dame defense is able to get pressure on Greg Alexander and turnovers are the difference in this game.