Rutgers (6-6) vs. Notre Dame (8-4)
Dec. 28, Noon ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Two schools that had forgettable years, Rutgers and Notre Dame could each use a win to propel themselves into the New Year on a positive note. In just the seven months after they finished the 2012 regular season 12-0, the Fighting Irish endured a blowout in the national title game, the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax and the suspension of star quarterback Everett Golson. Since the end of the '13 regular season, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco have accepted head coaching jobs at Miami (Ohio) and UConn, respectively.
Life hasn't been much better in Brunswick, N.J. After narrowly missing a BCS berth in 2012, the Scarlet Knights spent most of this year trying to get out of the media spotlight after former basketball coach Mike Rice became a national target for allegedly bullying his players. Rutgers also fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen on Dec. 8, after he was accused of similar behavior.
While Notre Dame still had its highlights this season (the Irish were the only team to beat Michigan State, and they defeated USC for the third time in four years), the Scarlet Knights have plummeted. Their six victories came against teams -- none of which qualified for a bowl game -- that combined for 17 wins this season. The Fighting Irish had a couple of impressive wins (add Arizona State to the aforementioned two), but suffered from inconsistent play at quarterback. The also lost at Pittsburgh.
Both teams have endured plenty of disappointment, but this chilly game in Yankee Stadium offers each an opportunity for needed momentum.
• Keep an eye on: Tommy Rees: A boring choice, perhaps. If you want a look at Notre Dame's star of the future, read Chris Johnson's story about wunderkind linebacker Jaylon Smith. For Rees, it's the end of an inconsistent but fascinating career. He will finish his career with his name etched all over the Fighting Irish record books: His 61 TD passes trail only Brady Quinn, his 22 wins are tied for seventh all-time and his 7,351 passing yards rank fourth all-time. But he will also be remembered as one of the most maddening players to ever line up under center for Notre Dame.
Rees started his career by snatching the starting job away from Dayne Crist as a freshman, but cultivated a reputation for untimely turnovers and confusing decisions before eventually losing the confidence of both the coaching staff and the fans. But that didn't stop those same Irish fans from loudly cheering Rees during his Senior Day introduction. He did captain the team to a decent season after it lost its leader (Te'o) and preferred starting QB (Golson). Against an atrocious Rutgers pass defense, which ranks 122nd in the nation, and which surrendered 31 passing touchdowns this season, Rees may thrive in his final game.
• Did you know: In four prior meetings, Notre Dame has defeated the Scarlet Knights by a combined score of 197-17, with the last meeting a 42-0 shellacking in 2002. Rutgers has been shut out three of the four times it has played the Fighting Irish.
• Final analysis: The Scarlet Knights will probably playing without star receiver Leonte Caroo (who is doubtful with an upper body injury), and quarterback Chas Dodd will likely face significant pressure from Notre Dame's formidable front seven. The Fighting Irish offense has been up and down all season, but Rutgers' defense is porous and may need inclement weather to help slow down Notre Dame. For a team that hasn't beaten anybody of note, the Scarlet Knights seems unlikely to come out on top, even if the Irish are reeling a bit.
• The pick: Notre Dame 27, Rutgers 10