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December 26, 2013

Marquee matchup awaits Rutgers

Rutgers' final opponent of the 2013 season is one unfamiliar to the Scarlet Knights as far as meeting on the gridiron. The 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl will mark only the fifth time in school history that Rutgers will face Notre Dame.

The last time these two programs squared off took place in 2002 when the Fighting Irish walked away with a 42-0 win. Coincidentally, Rutgers was shut out in three of its four losses to Notre Dame with the first one taking place in 1921 at the Polo Grounds.

"I think any time you play an opponent that is a high-caliber opponent that you have not played in a number of years or you are playing for the first time I think that always creates a unique level of excitement," Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said. "I remember not this season but last season playing Arkansas. Even though we were going down there, there was a lot of excitement around the program playing a SEC team and playing a team like Arkansas for the first time.

"It's the first time in a long time we've played Notre Dame and because of the caliber of team that they are and the caliber of the program they have and the fact that we haven't played them in a long time, I think it definitely creates some excitement."

While Rutgers hasn't fared well against Notre Dame, the same trend applies to Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. As the former Cincinnati head coach, Kelly led his Bearcats to a 3-0 record over Rutgers from 2007-09.

"If we were playing Tampa Bay [Bucaneers], we'd probably be a lot better suited," Kelly remarked. "It's a totally different football team, Greg Schiano was the head coach there."

Kelly routinely outmatched Schiano with the final defeat culminating in a 47-15 Rutgers loss to Cincinnati in the '09 season opener.

"We're running a totally different offense and defense than what we did at Cincinnati," Kelly said. "So we really won't gain any advantage from prior knowledge relative to our matchups in the past other than just knowing Rutgers and knowing the way those kids play. They play hard. I know Kyle and the way he coaches his kids and they play hard. So I know more about him as a head football coach and the way they play than I know about what we did when I was at Cincinnati."

Flood was part of the Schiano-led coaching staff who was dealt three straight losses by Kelly in his Bearcat days as RU was victimized by yet another spread offense.

"Just judging by what [Notre Dame] has done this season and what they've done in the past when Coach Kelly was at Cincinnati I would be surprised if we didn't see a fair share of one-back type sets and things to spread us out," Flood said. "Those are the things people have attacked us with this year so I would anticipate we'll be putting our game plan in to take care of those things."

Notre Dame is one year removed from playing in the BCS national championship game and although it has only been an 8-4 campaign this season, the Fighting Irish will provide Rutgers with its most prestigious bowl opponent in school history.

"I think that Notre Dame is certainly a brand that people know about but when I think Notre Dame the only thing I think of is this year's team," Flood said. "That's where our focus is. You don't play games against tradition, you play games against people. It will be our group of 18 to 22 year-olds against Notre Dame's group of 18 to 22 year-olds and they will be competing like crazy on the 28th."

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