After a brief reprieve, the Notre Dame football team was back at it on Tuesday, preparing for the final bout of the 2011 season: the December 29 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. against Florida State.
It was back at square one for head coach Brian Kelly, who had to use the time since the 28-14 loss to Stanford to decide on a starting quarterback.
Tommy Rees had started 11 games for the Irish after Dayne Crist's benching in week one, but proved ineffective early on against the Cardinal. Kelly opted to use dual-threat Andrew Hendrix exclusively in the second half of that contest, but said he will use both quarterbacks in the bowl game, with Rees getting the starting nod.
"It will be a topic that gets debated and I understand that. It's the quarterback at Notre Dame," Kelly said in defense of his decision. "But when making our decision we felt like Tommy has a great rapport with Mike [Floyd] and Tyler [Eifert], and our offensive line feels really good with his communication and getting into protections. And there's a lot of things that you can't just undo after one game.
"But I think you also know that Andrew Hendrix can do some things that will help out football team and we need to see him as well."
Kelly faced another late-season personnel decision at running back when Jonas Gray went down with a torn ACL against Boston College. Kelly has since nominated Theo Riddick to fill that void.
Riddick, who has three touchdowns this season as a wide receiver, has played running back in the past. His head coach says the move has given the young player renewed life just before the bowl game.
"He's been energized, and he just wants to play," Kelly said. "He's a football player." Riddick has even made a point to ask Kelly for more one-on-one time in the video room. "He's eager. He's excited. He's energized about being where he is."
The Irish will need to fine-tune their personnel issues if they hope to bring home a second-straight bowl victory. The Seminoles finished the 2011 regular season with a record of 8-4, sport the fourth-ranked defense in terms of points against, and have won six of their last seven games.
Both teams have had disappointing seasons compared to preseason hype and will be eager to prove their worth on the national stage and amid the already buzzing recruiting season.
"It's going to be a great challenge for us," Kelly said. "On the other hand, I think we present some problems as well. I think it's going to be a great matchup. It's going to be a fun game."