Notre Dame vs. Rutgers: How Pinstripe Bowl Allows Irish a Momentum Gain for 2014

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IDecember 19, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 05:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on the sidelines during play against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Cowboys Stadium on October 5, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Those who say Notre Dame's appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl is utterly meaningless are speaking in absolute falsehoods.

Yes, those detractors are correct in their stance that regressing from an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game to playing in a mid-tier bowl game isn't the exact definition of ideal for head coach Brian Kelly's program, but this final game played in the current calendar year surely does possess an added significance.

With former starting quarterback Everett Golson having been readmitted to the university, the Irish, while they won't look ahead, are certainly using the bowl game as a launching pad into next season.

It will be the prologue of a 2014 season that will begin with fans fully expecting Notre Dame to be in the thick of the College Football Playoff race and, at the very least, secure a BCS bowl bid should the Irish fail to finish as one of the nation's top four teams (only those four teams qualify for the playoff).

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 02:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish walks off of the field after checking on an injured player during a game against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 2, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. N
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Those are certainly lofty expectations, expectations Kelly hasn't become accustomed to.

For a point of reference, look back to Notre Dame's 33-17 victory against Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl, Kelly's first postseason victory during his tenure in South Bend, Ind.

During the press conference following that triumph, Kelly was openly and willingly discussing the program's desired elevation going into the 2011 season, via Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune

"I think you'll see a huge difference in Year 2," Kelly said. 

There's no doubt the former Cincinnati head coach's mind had been thinking long term during practices and games leading up to that Sun Bowl victory. In essence, it served as an opportunity for the program to reach its desired destination: the BCS.

While the following season ended in another 8-5 disappointment, the Irish were a few unfortunate bounces from finishing with 10 wins and securing a BCS bowl bid.

Despite the end result of that 2011 season, the improvement of the program and individual players was evident.

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 02:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish calls a play during a game against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 2, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Navy 38-34.  (Photo by Jona
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A prime example was former running back Jonas Gray, who freed himself from the "forgotten" level of the depth chart to, perhaps, Notre Dame's most consistent running back. The Detroit, Mich., native ended up finishing the 2011 season with 791 net rushing yards and 12 touchdowns after having been an afterthought during the 2010 season.

The Irish's 15 allotted bowl practices, along with the bowl game itself, were a time for players such as Gray to hone their craft and set themselves up for a monstrous following season.

An identical scenario is currently playing out with a slew of players on the roster, perhaps most notably being freshman receiver Torii Hunter Jr.

The son of the Detroit Tigers' outfielder and future Hall of Famer, Torii Sr., the younger Hunter has been beyond impressive during the Irish's initial Pinstripe Bowl practices, per Tim Prister of

"He's a good kid," Kelly said. "He's a pretty good player. That's all I'll tell you. He hasn't caught a (touchdown) pass, but you're going to be talking about him. He's a pretty good player."

Hunter Jr. likely isn't the only player impressing Kelly and the Irish coaching staff on a daily basis, which makes looking ahead to the 2014 season so enticing for fans.

With loaded units at every skill position, along with the return of Golson and the development of freshman quarterback Malik Zaire, Notre Dame possesses the potential to be a wildly exciting team to watch once the calendar flips to August.