Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-5, 5-4-3 ATS) vs. Miami Hurricanes (7-5, 5-7 ATS), Sun Bowl,
Friday December 31st, 2:00PM Eastern Sun Bowl Stadium El Paso, T.X.
By Jay Horne, College Bowl Handicapper, Predictem.com
Betting Odds: ND +3/Mia -3
Over/Under Total: 47
The Miami Hurricanes quickly made headlines shortly after the regular season concluded by firing Head Coach Randy Shannon who went just 28-22 in his four years stint in Miami. While Miami searches to place a big name coach in office, Miami interim coach Jeff Stoutland must get the Hurricanes prepared to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Sun Bowl on December 31st. It will be the first time that Notre Dame and Miami have meet in the postseason despite the Fighting Irish holding a 15-7-1 all-time series advantage. Both teams met quite frequently as national powers back in the 1980s and have been desperately trying to climb their way back to the national spotlight in recent years.
Miami definitely has the talent on the field to return to the national stage, but has failed to put the pieces to the puzzle together. Perhaps a coaching change may get the Hurricanes back to that level, but only time will tell. Notre Dame on the other hand has been likewise stuck in mediocrity for the past several years. The Fighting Irish have the chance to reach the 8 wins mark for the first time since 2006 if they can take down Miami. The Fighting Irish did close out the regular season strong by winning 6 of their final 8 games including a big blowout victory over Utah 28-3 so they do have some momentum on their side. Interestingly, the Sun Bowl is the 2nd oldest college football bowl game in existence and what a great way to restore history when two of the most historical college football powerhouses collide at Sun Bowl Stadium on New Year’s Eve.
Miami QB Jacory Harris had a sensational sophomore campaign in 2009, but has struggled this season completing 54% passing with 14 scores and 12 picks. In fact, freshman Stephen Morris has received playing time thanks to Jacory Harris suffering a concussion towards the end of the season. Morris showed some promising glimpses of the future and will likely get to share some snaps with Harris in the Sun Bowl. However, Harris is still the gun slinger equipped to attack the Notre Dame secondary most efficiently.
WR Leonard Hankerson has developed into a huge big play threat in the passing game. Hankerson racked up 1065 yards on the season with 12 touchdowns through the air. Across from Hankerson, WR Travis Benjamin has been a big time receiver as well averaging 18 yards per catch and tallying 699 yards on the season. The Miami offense has all the playmakers at the skill positions to be an explosive unit especially in the passing game. Surely, the Miami offense feels they can move the football but they must not give up any turnovers because that has been their Achilles Heel all year.
On the ground, Miami has a pair of running back in Damien Berry and Lamar Miller who have combined for 1,500 yards with 11 touchdowns this season. Berry has carried the ball mostly averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Miller has been a bit more explosive averaging 6 yards per carry. The Fighting Irish defense has been suspect at times against the run this season so expect Miami to test the waters on the ground before relying on the passing game to move the football. Still, everything will go back to Miami’s ability to hold on to the football. The Hurricanes have moved the ball well this season, but simply have to do a better job of limiting the mistakes and allowing opponents the short field.
The Fighting Irish offense has averaged 25 points per game this season while experiencing some ups and downs. QB Dayne Crist has thrown for 2,033 yards while completing 59% for 15 touchdowns and 7 picks this season. The majority of those passing totals have come from WR Michael Floyd. Floyd has produced 916 receiving yards this season and 10 trips to the end zone. The Fighting Irish offense have failed to produce any success running the football this season averaging just 120 yards per game on the ground to rank 96th in the country. As a result, the offense has looked for Floyd to make the big plays in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Notre Dame passing offense can move the ball when they go up against the number 2 ranked pass defense in Miami that is allowing just 146 yards per game this season. If Dayne Crist is not able to get in rhythm, the Notre Dame defense will have to find ways to come up with turnovers to help the offense put up points on the scoreboard.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I really like the fact Miami is only giving up 3 points here. The Hurricanes had problems this season, but their defense remained strong through those tough times. I believe the Hurricanes defense matches up extremely well and they will shut down the Notre Dame offense. If Miami’s offense catches fire, this game could turn into a blowout. Even if the offense does not catch fire, Miami is still the best team hands down. Bet the Miami Hurricanes at -3.