Notre Dame football: Irish avoid questions, get Rutgers

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Maybe the only thing worse for Brian Kelly than having to answer the Deontay Greenberry questions incessantly over the next three weeks would have been having to game plan for the explosive Houston sophomore receiver.

Thanks to Rutgers’ 31-6 dismissal of league lightweight South Florida Saturday night in the Scarlet Knights’ final American Athletic Conference game before plunging into Big Ten membership, the Notre Dame head football coach won’t have to.

The Scarlet Knights’ second victory over their final six games, over teams with a combined record of 4-20, was enough to lift Rutgers (6-6) into a Dec. 28 date with Notre Dame (8-4) at the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is 12:15 p.m. EST, and ESPN has the telecast.

Tickets went on sale Saturday at the team website,, and at

Houston (8-4), presumably the backup plan had Rutgers fell short of bowl eligibility, won two more league games than did the Scarlet Knights this season and ravaged Rutgers head to head, 49-14, on Oct. 26 in Piscataway, N.J.

Where the Cougars fell short was with geography and its tepid fan base.

Greenberry, who spent months in ND’s 2012 recruiting class before a shocking 11th-hour switch to the Cougars, finished the regular season with 76 catches for 1,106 yards. That put the 6-foot-3, 196-pounder in the top 20 nationally in both receiving yards per game (16th) and receptions per game (19th).

Rutgers too has an ND recruit who got away, though Rutgers running back Savon Huggins was never actually in the 2011 Irish class. The five-star prospect from Jersey City, N.J., committed to homestate Rutgers the last weekend in January, days before national signing day.

Kelly had landed just one true running back prospect in the class — three-star prospect Cam McDaniel, whose offers included Tulsa, Louisiana Tech, Colorado and all three service academies as well as Stanford and Iowa.

George Atkinson III, a high school running back, was recruited to be a wide receiver but moved back to his high school position after the Irish whiffed on Huggins and suffered some attrition in its returning players.

Three years into their careers, McDaniel has the most impressive numbers. He’s ND’s leading rusher with 625 yards, three touchdowns and a 4.6 yards-per-carry average. Huggins has been mostly a reserve his entire career and has 279 yards, two TDs and a 3.2 yards-per-carry average for the Scarlet Knights.

Overall, Rutgers came into the South Florida game with the nation’s 85th-ranked offense (by total yards), 93rd-ranked defense and a 117th standing in turnover margin among the nation’s 123 FBS teams.

The Irish have won all four of their previous meetings with Rutgers — all regular-season matchups — by an average score of 49-4. Notre Dame holds an all-time mark of 16-6-3 in Yankee Stadium games.

Notre Dame made its RSVP to the bowl invitation official Saturday morning at a team meeting, though New York state native Jarron Jones made his delight known Friday night on Twitter when news of the Irish bowl plans leaked.

“PINSTRIPE BOWL!!!!!! Coming home!!!!! #yankeestadium!!!!,” tweeted the man who has stepped in for injured and no longer amateur nose guard Louis Nix.

Kelly was more measured Saturday both in his emotions and usage of exclamation points.

“Quite simply, we are thrilled to bring our football program to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl,” Kelly said via prepared statement. He and six Irish players will meet live with the media early Sunday afternoon.

“We were privileged to play in New York City and Yankee Stadium in 2010,” Kelly continued. “The treatment our university received from the Steinbrenner family, the New York Yankees and the entire organization was unlike anything we’ve experienced in my tenure at Notre Dame.”

To those who wonder what kind of recruiting bump ND might get from playing in New York, it has been and continues to be an area of priority. The Irish roster includes six players in the two-deeps from the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut corridor, as well as freshman cornerback Rashad Kinlaw, fifth-year senior nose guard Tyler Stockton and walk-on Jesse Bongiovi.

Junior outside linebacker Ishaq Williams, from Brooklyn, grew up the closest to Yankee Stadium, and attended ND’s 27-3 victory over Army on Nov. 20, 2010 as an uncommitted prospect being courted by the Irish. Huggins also was ND’s guest for the game.

Another Brooklynite, defensive lineman Jay Hayes, is in the Irish 2014 recruiting class as well as two New Jersey products, offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and defensive end Andrew Trumbetti.

ND’s path to New York opened up when former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis’ Kansas Jayhawks’ upset West Virginia last month to ensure the Big 12 wouldn’t be able to produce a seventh bowl-eligible team.

The Pinstripe, which changes affiliations next year and will pair an ACC team vs. a Big Ten squad, was contracted to match Big 12 No. 7 vs. the fourth pick from the Big East’s leftovers — the AAC. The Irish pondered spots with complicated entanglements in the Dec. 26 Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego and the Hawaii Bowl Christmas Eve in Honolulu before settling on the bowl option that seems to make the most sense and was the path of least resistance.

Notre Dame’s branding, television appeal and ability to sell tickets made it the most popular of this bowl season’s dumpster divers. Nine teams will be left home, because there are 79 bowl-eligible teams for 70 slots.

Next season, the Irish enter into their ACC agreement, making the bowl options more plentiful and prestigious, but not necessarily less complicated.

The pecking order — when the Orange Bowl is not hosting a national semifinal — goes as follows for the next six seasons beginning in 2014.

1: Four-team playoff; 2: Orange Bowl; 3-6: Sun, Belk, Pinstripe, Music City or Gator (alternating); 7-9: Military, AdvoCare V100, the new Detroit Lions Bowl; 10-11: conditional tie-ins with Beef O’Brady’s and Birmingham.

Notre Dame will have access to every ACC bowl, but would play opposite an ACC team not instead of one if it qualifies for the Orange Bowl. For the others down the pecking order, ND’s overall record would have to be within one win to jump an ACC team with a better record.

Notre Dame linebacker Ishaq Williams (11) will be going home when the Irish play in New York later this month.. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER