NEW YORK – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly sat beside Rutgers coach Kyle Flood on Friday in the Yankee Stadium press room with the Pinstripe Bowl trophy just off to their right at a sparsely attended news conference.
It was a different scene from a year ago when Kelly was next to Alabama coach Nick Saban in front a packed banquet room in Miami with the BCS championship crystal trophy off to the side.
Though this seasons bowl game doesnt have nearly the buzz as last seasons shot at the national title, Kelly said there is no question that a win by the No. 25 Irish (8-4) over the Scarlet Knights (6-6) is important today.
You hear a lot of you know its not a BCS game, coach and I, we are competitors first of all, Kelly said. Any game that you put in front of us, we want to win the game. We are competitive, so the old phrase, a game worth playing is a game worth winning.
Flood echoed Kellys sentiments about the importance of a victory.
If they put the scoreboard on we want to win, Flood said. We know the scoreboard is going to be on, so were going to do everything we can to be 1-0 in that game. If you get an opportunity to play in a game, in a bowl game in a venue like this against a storied program like Notre Dame, its always an opportunity to showcase your program.
With both coaches wanting the victory, there is a chance that the teams could run plays that havent been seen this season. And trick plays are not off the table.
Youre trying to win one game, right? Kelly said. During the season its a marathon to a conference championship or a BCS game, whereas this is one game. Youre taking shots that you probably wouldnt take during the regular season. Taking that risk goes up a little bit because its a one-game opportunity, and youre not playing for the national championship here. Youre playing for a trophy that means a lot and a win. I think that risk factor becomes one that youre willing to work with.
One change for the Irish going into today is a clearer picture in their running game.
Kelly said freshman Tarean Folston has emerged as the starter after he came on late this season and finished with 397 yards on 71 carries with two touchdowns.
I thought that our running game was one that certainly needed to match with who the running back situation ended up being, Kelly said. We were trying to find out who that back was, whether it was Folston or (junior George) Atkinson. We started with a rotation there, and I think weve kind of settled on Folston as somebody that would start the game.
Just as today will give a glimpse into the future of Notre Dames running back situation, Kelly also wants this to be the start of future success like the team enjoyed last season when it went 12-0 after back-to-back 8-5 seasons in his first two years with the program.
I think if you look at the last couple of years, we were probably as close to being an eight-win team last year as we were to being a 12-win team, Kelly said. I think we were probably as close to being a 10-win team this year as we were an eight-win team. Were very close to being able to put double-digit wins each year, and thats really the goal in terms of getting your program to double-digit wins and competing certainly for BCS opportunities.
Thats where we need to be. Were close, were not there consistently yet. Certainly the record is what it is. Now our attention is winning this game and making the playoffs. It sounds like an NFL line, but now it will be about getting this program to play for a playoff spot each and every year. Thats going to at least need double-digit wins each year.