5 Reasons to Watch the New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Pinstripe Bowl: Notre Dame Takes on Rutgers
The New Era Pinstripe Bowl is a matchup of one team that had greater expectations against a team that is probably lucky to be in a bowl game at all. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished at what for them was a disappointing 8-4. Losses to Michigan, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Stanford turned what could have been an excellent season into something of a melancholy year in South Bend.
In the four losses, the Fighting Irish were only beaten by more than seven points on two occasions, so Notre Dame was pretty much in every game it played this season. The Fighting Irish are also the only team in the country to beat Big 10 champions Michigan State this season, while Notre Dame alumni are always happy when a season includes a win over the USC Trojans. Taken for what it is, Notre Dame's season hasn't been bad. For Notre Dame, however, it was a bit of a downer.
Meanwhile, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights were the epitome of mediocre, going 6-6 in the regular season and failing to even post a .500 record in the AAC, finishing 3-5. Given that the AAC was widely thought of as the worst of the "Power 6" conferences (if the AAC even still qualified for such a lofty status), Rutgers being in a bowl game with that record in that conference is something of a miracle -- or a sign that there are too many bowls.
Despite losing their opener, the Scarlet Knights showed a lot of promise in the first week of the season, losing by a 52-51 score in overtime to the Fresno State Bulldogs, who won their first 10 games and won the Mountain West Conference Championship Game. Rutgers eventually got to 4-1, including wins over Arkansas and SMU, before cratering in AAC play. Rutgers had to beat South Florida in the final week of the regular season to even become bowl eligible.
However they got here, Rutgers now has bowl game glory to play for, and it will do so against the best-known and probably most-followed program in the country, Notre Dame. Here are five reasons to watch the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
5. Notre Dame Offensive Line vs. Rutgers Pass Rush
One of the key storylines for the Pinstripe Bowl will be who wins the battle between Notre Dame's offensive line, which is excellent at pass protection, and the Rutgers defensive linemen and linebackers. Rutgers has sacked the quarterback 32 times this season, an average of 2.67 per game. Senior defensive end Marcus Thompson leads Rutgers with 5.5 sacks. But the Scarlet Knights may struggle to get pressure on Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees, because Notre Dame has allowed only eight sacks the entire season (0.67 per game). If Rutgers can't get pressure on Rees, the Scarlet Knights are in for a tough day.
4. Rutgers Linebacker, Leading Tackler Steve Longa
Another factor in the Rutgers' defense that will be critical in the Pinstripe Bowl is the play of linebacker Steve Longa. He is far and away the leading tackler for the Scarlet Knights, as he has been in on 111 stops this season (49 unassisted -- also best on the team). Longa has made 7.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles, recovered one and has three sacks. He's even been a factor in pass coverage, breaking up three passes. He's a player Rees must account for every play.
3. Notre Dame Quarterback Tommy Rees' Finale
Tommy Rees has quietly enjoyed a very good senior season at quarterback for Notre Dame. While sometimes an afterthought or a backup during his career in South Bend, Rees has been very good this year, throwing for 2,938 yards and 27 touchdowns with just 13 interceptions. Rees' passer rating is a decent 128.12. Rees has averaged 244.8 yards passing per game this season, far above his career average of 159.8. This is a favorable matchup for Rees against Rutgers' defense in the Pinstripe Bowl, so look for him to have a big day.
2. Shaky Rutgers Pass Defense to be Tested
When Rutgers hasn't gotten pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, the results have often been disastrous for the Scarlet Knights. Through the regular season, Rutgers conceded 311.4 passing yards per game, nearly 70 more than the Scarlet Knights' offense was producing. Rutgers also allowed 31 passing touchdowns this season, bad numbers when facing a quarterback the likes of Rees in the Pinstripe Bowl. Four Rutgers opponents this season threw for at least 400 yards, and in all those game, the Scarlet Knights conceded at least five touchdowns through the air.
1. Because It's Notre Dame
It may sound like conceit or a little self-centered, but the fact of the matter is the No. 1 reason to watch the Pinstripe Bowl is because Notre Dame is in it. Notre Dame's presence in this game elevates the bowl to main-event status. With Yankee Stadium as a backdrop, fans will tune in at noon on Dec. 28 to support their Fighting Irish, or root like anything against them, as is usually the case most Saturdays in the fall. Like them or not, the Fighting Irish are a draw, and their presence here is the top reason to watch the Pinstripe Bowl.