Eight walk-ons will be rewarded for service, sweat, blood, and tears given to the program without neither the benefit of Saturday glory nor a free education.
Each will handle his emotions differently, but invariably, sadness will envelope members of this group, the results of the football game played often secondary to the finality of the moment.
"It's different than any game the entire year," explained Irish head coach Charlie Weis. "So many things go through their mind. You should see some of these guys. You try to settle some of these guys down because they are wired…but you should see them after the game."
Weis noted tears from his seniors in each of his four home finales, regardless of the final outcome on the field, though he admitted that losing to Syracuse in last year's home finale was "…one of my biggest regrets, because those seniors walked out of here with a loss. It was as gut-wrenching feeling that stuck with me for a long time."
The fifth-year coach insists he won't think about the plausible finality of the moment for himself.
"That would be very selfish for me to think about anyone other than those fourth- or fifth-year players," he said.
Trying Times in Storrs
While Notre Dame deals with the inconvenience of outside pressure weighing on its head coach and with the mixed emotions of a final home appearance, Saturday's opponent was dealt a real-life blow in the murder of teammate Jasper Howard just over one month ago.
The Huskies haven't won since, dropping three games by a total of 10 points, two of which occurred vs. ranked opponents on the road. On the season, UConn has lost five games by a total of 15 points.
Home is Where Their Heart is…
And in this case, I'm referring to opponents, as visitors have wracked up 20 wins in their last 50 collective trips to Notre Dame Stadium and 23 in 62 contests in South Bend this decade. Weis is 19-13 in home games and 3-1 vs. four tailor-made senior day opponents (Syracuse, Army, Duke, and Syracuse: collective win total entering the contest with the Irish – 7).
His four previous teams have started slow out of the gate in the season's swan song, scoring 0, 0, 0, and 3 points in four separate 1st Quarters, a relevant statistic considering the 2009 team's recent early-game struggles (two opening period touchdowns over the last five games).
Even during the program's recent halcyon days under Lou Holtz, Irish teams struggled in home finales, as Holtz began his career 4-4 on Senior Day vs. (with one exception) top-tier competition before succumbing to the "homecoming scheduling" bent with service academies and lowly Rutgers littering the season-end schedule for a 7-4 finales finish.
At the risk of breaking the "big picture" code of silence levied this week, Notre Dame is 20-10 in its last 30 Senior Day games; two of those 10 defeats include contests that knocked the Irish from the top spot in the polls (1990 and 1993).
Regardless of the outcome, fans should witness a battle to the end, as 9 of the program's last 19 Senior Day games have been decided by a touchdown or less (and it certainly appears the Cardiac Kids of 2009 will follow suit).
Oh Right…the Game
Roses (not the kind awarded by a famous Parade Committee, of course)...extended public address announcements...parents on the field...if earned, a victory lap for the outgoing heroes...all potential pleasant memories if the Irish can regroup prior to and throughout the contest Saturday.
A win would give the Irish a chance at an 8-4 finish with what would now be considered a solid upset at Stanford on Thanksgiving Saturday. And though 8-4 isn't what most Irish fans had hoped for in '09, a subsequent bowl win and 9-4 mark on the final ledger would pass the eyeball test in Irish annals.
Following last week's much-needed bye, UConn will bring a massive, physical offensive line for its program's first visit to South Bend, a group that has paved the way for a pair of hard-charging ‘backs: junior running back Jordan Todman and 5th-year senior Andre Dixon (questionable with a knee injury), who've combined for 1,556 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.
Notre Dame transfer Zach Frazer will quarterback the Huskies. Fraser is coming off his best effort of the season, completing 19-32 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown (no interceptions) in a 47-45 loss at No. 5 Cincinnati.
For the last six days I've had the Huskies earmarked for a win against the collapsing Irish. The reasoning was based on human nature and the teams' relevant situations entering the contest. On the field I figured the bruising UConn ground game would wear down the beleaguered Irish front seven and hit enough passes downfield to keep the secondary on its heels.
Enjoy it while you can…