<
>

What we learned from Notre Dame's bowl

What we learned from Notre Dame's 33-17 win over Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl:

1. The turnaround was for real: I suppose one could dismiss Notre Dame's November winning streak as overrated. The wins came against a vastly inflated Utah team that got kicked around in its bowl, Army and a probation-riddled USC. And, granted, Miami was playing under an interim coach after a disappointing finish. But wherever the Hurricanes' minds were, they still were as physically talented as any team Notre Dame saw all season, and the Irish blew them out. The Domers aren't championship material yet by any means, but they became a much different, much better team at the end of the season. And Brian Kelly looks like the right man to lead the program forward.

2. The defense took another step: Truth was, Notre Dame won those four games with its defense. Yes, its defense. And that defense was stout again against Miami, nearly pitching a first-half shutout before giving up a pair of scores in the second half. Still, the Hurricanes -- like the three previous opponents -- found it hard to run against the Irish. Stopping the run is the key to being a great defense and to being a great team. Notre Dame loses key defensive lineman Ian Williams for next season but was playing very well up front without him down the stretch. If this defense plays like this next season, great things are possible in 2011.

3. Notre Dame deserves a preseason ranking: Don't go wild and put the Irish in the Top 15. They're not deserving of that kind of hype. But with at least 15 starters back off a team that surged down the stretch, this is a team that deserves to be in the lower part of the Top 25 to start the year. This might finally be a team that outplays its preseason praise.