Notre Dame defeated Rutgers 29-16 in the Pinstripe Bowl to end their 2013 season.
The game itself didn't provide much to offer as far as the 'wow factor' goes for viewers, but the aftermath and a few things heading into the game are indicators for vast improvements ahead for Notre Dame football fans to look forward to in 2014.
Here are 5 things to take from their Pinstripe win:
1-Expect a new surface in 2014 in South Bend
As if the game in Yankee Stadium couldn't be a sign for future need of a stable surface in South Bend.
In the first quarter alone, it was evident footing would be a factor throughout the game. On an early drive, Notre Dame runningback Tarean Folston lost his footing on a somewhat plant and cut move. His fall put him on the sidelines as it appeared Folston strained a groin on the play.
Folston returned without complications but it was clear players would have trouble all day-and did on both sides of the ball.
Against Oklahoma early in the season, make shift field crew teams were utilized during the game to perform emergency divot repairs throughout the entire game. This coming after the surface had already been replaced earlier in the season- one of several repairs on the season.
It has been a topic of debate for years to replace the grass surface with some form of artificial 'upgrade'. Stumbling blocks have come in the form of traditionalists deeming that the image of Notre Dame history could be tarnished in some way.
Rockne would roll over.
And financial indicators within the university claim a fee of $3 million dollars must be afforded or raised outside of the standard budget before any upgrades or improvements to the football field are made.
Whatever the case, the fact remains Notre Dame stadium needs to improve the surface now. The practice facilities already are equipped with a field turf surface.
And if its only for a single season experiment- Notre Dame can afford such a move but equally can't afford to go forward on such a poor surface in place that could risk player injuries for both teams that take the field on Saturday.
2-New Defensive Coordinator will bring change
According to several reports late Saturday- Notre Dame has hired Brian VanGorder as the new defensive coordinator.
VanGorder previously worked with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State from 1989-91.
VanGorder is in his first year as linebackers coach with the Jets after serving as Auburn's defensive coordinator last season.
Coach Brian Kelly said Saturday after Notre Dame's win that the Irish have their new defensive coordinator in place, but he would not reveal the name because the contract has not been finalized.
What will be interesting going into the 2014 season will be whether or not the the hire will help or hinder recruiting and perhaps the decision of one Stephon Tuitt.
Tuitt will play a vital role in 2014 for the Irish success-especiall where the defensive side of things are concerned. His return will be like adding a so called 5 star plus recruit to the team, and would at worst keep the Irish stable on the front line.
His departure will greatly downgrade any hopes for a return to 2012 numbers for the unit- but there are players in place to give the Irish plenty of hope.
VanGorder will have plenty to work with regardless with the return of players Jarrett Grace and Ben Councell. Freshman Jaylon Smith has cemented his place for the Irish, the insertion of Max Redfield at safety on Saturday also provided a glimpse at another upgrade in the defensive backfield, and the improved play of Keivarae Russell at corner was again evident Saturday.
A fresh face and scheme and voice often works for most, and VanGorder will now take on a position crucial for BCS success for Notre Dame heading into 2014 and beyond.
3-Irish receivers will soar in 2014
Remember the names: CJ Prosise, William Fuller and Chris Brown.
All 3 saw action Saturday, were part of a game plan earlier in 2013 against Air Force and with the return of Everett Golson, will see plenty of action as the Irish offense will become perhaps one of the nations most prolific offenses.
Not to mention Davaris Daniels and Corey Robinson are already proven pieces in place along with the hopeful return of tight end Troy Niklas.
Niklas has NFL grades papers submitted and has yet to decide if he,along with Tuitt-will come back in 2014.
And then there is Torii Hunter. Injured before the start of the season- Hunter will push for a starting role that many expected would take place in 2013 pre injury. The son of baseballs Tori Hunter has all the skills many expect will elevate the Irish passing game in 2014.
4-The Special Teams needs to be "Special"
Only way to describe what took place all season for the Irish in the return game.
Poor tackling, long returns against and muffed punt return attempts were symbolic woes for Notre Dame in 2013.
An early mishandled punt by senior TJ Jones put the Knights in scoring position.
It was clear again Saturday against Rutgers that heading into 2014 the one area in dire need of an upgrade is the unit as a whole. Rutgers freshman Janarion Grant torched the Irish kick return unit for an average of 42 yards per return, with 127 yards on 3 returns.
The only glimpse for any promise was the insertion of Amir Carlisle as a kick off specialist with the suspension of George Atkinson. For the day Carlisle had 80 plus on the 3 returns. The one time prospect for a starting role as runningback perhaps found his calling, now Kelly needs to supplant what was the only clear success and bright spot for the unit on the year in Notre Dames final game.
5- The Fighting Irish are built for a BCS run in 2014
Having the players is one thing.
Putting it together is another.
With the return of Everett Golson the Irish offense should have little trouble scoring points. The Irish are loaded at receiver and have no shortage of backs with Tarean Folston,Greg Bryant, Cam McDaniel and Will Mahone- even if George Atkinson should bolt early to the NFL.
The defense is all but complete and upgraded again for another good year despite the woes in 2013.
Even with the departure of Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt potentially- Notre Dame has players on defense that can propell Irish hopes again like 2012. Jaron Jones and Sheldon Day will anchor the middle with Isaac Rochell and Coach Kelly knows he has alot heading into next year and leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl:
“I like what I see right now, Jarron Jones is doing a terrific job — Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell. Watching those guys play over the last few days has been really enjoyable in the sense that they’re getting quality first team reps. I feel like we’ve got the guys that are necessary for us to be a good solid defensive line in the fall.”
Also returning will be Tony Springman who was injured heading into the year, and a key piece in the form of incoming freshman Jay Hayes could spark results like those in 2012.
And one thing can be cemented in the thoughts of the Irish faithful: Coach Brian Kelly is good for Notre Dame. With 9 wins in a season that could have gone backwords even more, Kelly beat teams this year former Coach Charlie Weis would have lost. Saturday Weis would have let the Knights score more and end the season on a bad note. Charlie loses to Michigan State as well. And Weis doesn't sniff the BCS last year perhaps losing to Pittsburgh and Stanford- simply because he wouldn't have had the players to do so.
Whether or not Kelly becomes a legend of sorts remains to be seen, but after his 4th year- again yeilding 8 plus wins and another bowl win, along with the most important factor of recruiting defensive blue chippers- Notre Dame is beginning to take on its proud past again to some degree.
The schedule like all years for Notre Dame is loaded again with the likes of USC, which will be better off with a new coach, Stanford- and a first glimpse of a conference like schedule against Florida State with Notre Dame's new link to the ACC.
Alot to look forward to in 2014.