EL PASO -- For the first time in 20 years we'll get to see the University of Miami take on Notre Dame on a football field. The Irish and Canes are both 7-5 and far removed from their glory days. Still, Friday's 77th annual Hyundai Sun Bowl will mean a lot to the winner in terms of building momentum toward 2011.
The Hurricanes have lost two in a row coming in and the Irish have won three in a row. Yet, the Canes are a 2.5 point favorite. With temperatures forecasted to range from the mid 40s to lows in the 30s (it was feel like the 20s with the wind chill factor) and winds ranging from 15 to 25 miles per hour, it is obvious the conditions will be more familiar for the Irish than UM. So who is going to win? Here's a breakdown:
> When UM runs the ball... Canes ranked 26th in the country in rushing, averaging a little over 190 yards a game on the ground. Notre Dame ranked 56th in run defense (146.75) but surrendered only 93 yards a game in its final three victories. The Hurricanes are led by senior Damien Berry (865 yards, 5 TDs), redshirt freshman Lamar Miller (633 yards, 6 TDs) and sophomore Mike James (384 yards, 3 TDs). Sophomore linebacker Manti Te'o leads the Irish, who run a 3-4 scheme, with 127 tackles, 17th most in the country. As improved as Notre Dame might be against the run, the Hurricanes should still have some success. Edge: Miami.
> When UM throws the ball... Jacory Harris (54.8 pct, 1,756 yards, 14 TDs, 12 INTs) has had trouble with interceptions throughout his career. He'll have Leonard Hankerson (66 rec., 1,085 yards, 12 TDs) to throw to. But Notre Dame's pass defense (ranked 40th) can create problems. The Irish have produced 28 sacks this season and are giving up under 10 yards per completion, one of only eight teams nationally to do that. The Irish have also picked off 14 passes. Darrin Walls has returned two of his five interceptions for touchdowns. The Irish are also very experienced at safety. Edge: Notre Dame.
> When Notre Dame runs the ball... The Irish rank 96th nationally in rushing (121 yards per game) and lost leading rusher Armando Allen (Hialeah-Miami Lakes) for the season in late October. Cierre Wood (522 yards, 2 TDs) has done a decent job filling in. The Canes rank 81st in run defense (171 yards per game) and have been steamrolled on the ground by a few good teams. But the Irish prefer to throw and the Canes, who lead the nation in tackles for loss (8.58 per game), should be able to line up and defend against the run in this game. Edge: Miami.
> When Notre Dame throws the ball... Freshman quarterback Tommy Rees was called into action after Dayne Crist went down against Tulsa with three games left. Rees has thrown at least two touchdown passes in three of his last four games. His favorite target, junior receiver Michael Floyd (73 rec., 916 yards, 10 TDs) ranks second all-time in touchdown catches at Notre Dame and needs only one more to tie Jeff Samardzija. But the Irish will be tested. The Hurricanes pass defense ranks second nationally and has 16 INTs. UM also ranks sixth in sacks (3.1 per game). Normally, this is probably a push. But with the conditions being what they will be, that has to favor the defense. Edge: Miami.
> Special teams... Notre Dame kicker David Ruffer, a former walk-on, is 20 for 20 on field goal attempts since last year -- including a career-long 50-yarder this season. He is 34 of 37 on extra points. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas grad Ben Turk averaged 38.2 yards per punt this season. The Irish blocked a punt against Utah and returned it for a score. The Hurricanes' Matt Bosher has been inconsistent on field goals going 12 of 16 and making only one of three attempts longer than 40 yards. He's averaging 44.3 yards per punt. The Canes had a kickoff and punt return taken back for a touchdown at Ohio State. But they haven't done much since. Edge: Notre Dame.
> Coaching... Since 2001, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has the fifth-most wins of any FBS coach at 101-29 -- only Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Texas' Mack Brown, Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Florida's Urban Meyer had more. UM interim coach Jeff Stoutland, who will return to coach the offensive line for the fifth year, has never been a head coach. Six UM assistants aren't expected back next season and that has to play at least a psychological role. The Irish, meanwhile, are gaining confidence under Kelly. Edge: Notre Dame.
> Intangibles... Who is more battle tested? Notre Dame played the toughest regular season schedule in the country, taking on 11 teams that finished .500 or better, including nine that made it to bowl games. Of Miami's seven wins, only five came against teams with winning records. Who is more disciplined? The Irish are the eighth-least penalized team in the country. UM ranks 114th out of 120 FBS teams in penalties per game. Edge: Notre Dame.
Now that you have seen the edges who do you think is going to win and why? Provide your prediction below. Susan Miller Degnan and I will announce our picks shortly before kickoff on Twitter.