The stakes weren't the same as when Notre Dame and Miami played in one of college football's fiercest rivals in the late 1980s, but Friday's 33-17 Irish victory could be a sign of good things to come under coach Brian Kelly.
Notre Dame (8-5) dominated the Sun Bowl matchup in El Paso, Texas, that pitted the Irish against the Hurricanes (7-6) for the first time since 1990.
Receiver Michael Floyd pushed Notre Dame to an early lead on his way to a Sun Bowl MVP title, and safety Harrison Smith caught as many passes from Miami quarterbacks of all but three Hurricane receivers.
"(Friday's win) kicks off next year," said Smith, who had three of the Irish's four interceptions of Miami quarterbacks Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. "I think the bowl game is kind of like a tweener game between the two seasons. It's almost the first game of next season for us. That's the way we take it, and I think we are going to improve in the offseason."
Floyd set the tone for Notre Dame's second consecutive bowl victory. The Irish also won the Hawaii Bowl after the 2008 season.
Floyd gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead with 4:35 to play in the first quarter after touchdown receptions of 3 and 34 yards on the Irish's first two offensive series.
Floyd finished with six catches for 109 yards.
"It's not hard when you are throwing the ball to Mike," said Irish quarterback Tommy Rees, who improved to 4-0 as starter after completing 15 of 29 passes for 201 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions against Miami. "He is such a great player if you put it any where near him, he is going to make the catch. Starting off strong like that helps you move forward and get in a groove."
The Sun Bowl victory gave Notre Dame four wins to close Kelly's first season that was filled with plenty of challenges.
The Irish started the year 1-3 and fell to 4-5 with three games to play, losing their starting quarterback (Dayne Crist), starting tight end (Kyle Rudolph) and starting running back (Armando Allen) to season ending injuries.
Notre Dame also had to find away to deal with off-field issues with the death of videographer Declan Sullivan on Oct. 27 and the accusation of a cover up of a sexual assault case in August.
Closing the season with four straight and an emphatic bowl victory has the program looking up on the field.
"I think after these last four games, everyone's excited whose coming back for next season," left tackle Zack Martin said. "The offseason is going to be everyone working hard. We won eight games this year, but you know what, let's kick it up and go to that next level next year."
Who knew coming to Texas would be such a home-field advantage for the Irish?
And not just because the large Catholic population in El Paso, Texas, was pulling for Notre Dame against Miami in the Sun Bowl.
Mother nature also helped out the Irish.
Friday's game temperature was 34 degrees, the fourth coldest Sun Bowl in the game's 77-year history. And it snowed the night before and right after the game.
"I think the cold helped a little bit," Martin said. "Us being in South Bend, leaving there it was like 15 degrees. This may be the coldest game we had all year, and we are in south Texas. I think that was a little shock for them with it being 55, 60 (degrees) all week."
Notre Dame won every coach's favorite battle on Friday – turnovers.
The Irish had four interceptions against the Hurricanes, who didn't create a single Notre Dame turnover.
Robert Blanton had the first interception for the Irish, coming down with a Jacory Harris pass at Notre Dame's 43-yard line in the first quarter.
Smith made the other three interceptions for the Irish. The senior's three interceptions matched the school's and Sun Bowl's record for picks in a game.
"It was a total defensive effort," Smith said of the interceptions. "When you knock the receivers off and mess up the timing with the quarterback, it really makes it easier for the safeties.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o sprained his right knee early in the third quarter and didn't return against Miami.
Kelly said the sophomore was cleared to play with a brace, but with the Irish leading 27-3 when Te'o was hurt, there was no need to risk further injury.
Rees also injured his knee in the first half.
"Tommy had a bit of a hyperextension of the knee cap, an injury he had in high school," Kelly said. "The doctors evaluated him, put him in a knee brace and he played the whole second half with the knee brace on."
End of the streak
Notre Dame kicker David Ruffer connected on field goals of 40, 50 and 19 yards in Friday's win over Miami.
Those three field goals made him 23 of 23 for his career.
But the senior finally missed a field goal from 36 yards out with 39 seconds to play in the third quarter.
"The streak was neat while it happened, but I was going to miss eventually," said Ruffer, who tweaked his leg on the 19-yard field goal when his cleat locked into the turf.
Now the question is will Ruffer get a chance to start a new streak for Notre Dame.
He has said he would love to come back, but he would need a scholarship to make it economically feasible.
"I love being at Notre Dame, everything is great there," Ruffer said. "I also know it is not up to me. To a big extent, it's not really up to the coaches either. Every things got to work out. If does great, and if it doesn't, I will move on."
Ruffer would need to be granted another year by the university, and the coaching staff would have to decide if it could carry three kickers on scholarship.
Nick Tausch, who kicked a 34-yard field goal Friday, will be joined as a scholarship kicker by Kyle Brindza, an oral commitment for the class of 2011.