EL PASO, Texas -- A far-from-perfect first season as Notre Dame coach could not have ended much better for Brian Kelly and his Fighting Irish.
Freshman Tommy Rees passed for 201 yards and two touchdowns to Michael Floyd as Notre Dame beat Miami, 33-17, in the Sun Bowl on Friday, making Kelly the first Fighting Irish coach to win a bowl game during his first season.
The Irish started 1-3 under Kelly and consecutive October losses to Navy and Tulsa left them in precarious position to even get bowl eligible. But Notre Dame finished with four straight victories against Utah, Army, Southern California and Miami that should buoy hopes for the future of the program.
"Clearly, we are gaining a lot of confidence," Kelly said. "We've beaten some good football teams late in the year as we've come together and found our identity. It's going to taste a whole lot better in the offseason talking about a win."
After a 20-year break, it was all Irish in the latest installment of a storied rivalry that became known during the 1980s as Catholics versus Convicts.
Notre Dame (8-5) reached the end zone on three of its first four possessions. Rees tossed TD passes of 3 and 34 yards to Floyd and Cierre Wood broke free on a 34-yard scoring run before David Ruffer added field goals from 40, 50, 19 and 40 yards.
"It's not hard when you're throwing the ball to Mike," Rees said. "He's such a great player."
There were tough moments for the Irish on the field and off this season. The week before the Tulsa loss at home, the team's student videographer was killed in an accident at practice. Notre Dame, however, recovered down the stretch, then handled Miami (7-6) easily.
The Hurricanes trailed, 30-3, going into the fourth quarter.
In Friday's other games:
*B.J. Daniels threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third and South Florida finished coach Skip Holtz's first season with a 31-26 victory over Clemson on Friday in the Meineke Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.
*Latavius Murray scored on a 10-yard run with 9:01 left, and Central Florida held on to beat Georgia, 10-6, Friday in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., and cap the best season in school history with the program's first postseason victory.
*EJ Manuel threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to stop a South Carolina rally and lead Florida State to a 26-17 victory over the turnover-plagued Gamecocks in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
*Northwestern and Texas Tech square off in the first-ever TicketCity Bowl in Dallas (noon, ESPN). Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
*Two top 20 teams square off in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. (1 p.m., ESPN), when Michigan State plays Alabama. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban is a former head coach at Michigan State.
*It's the last game on the sidelines for Florida coach Urban Meyer, who is stepping down after today's Outback Bowl (1 p.m., ABC) against Penn State.
*There is talk that Michigan (7-5) coach Rich Rodriguez needs to win today's Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. (1:30 p.m., ESPN2), to keep his job.
*Two of the nation's best teams meet in the Rose Bowl (5 p.m. ESPN) in Pasadena, Calif., as unbeaten TCU faces 11-1 Wisconsin.
*Connecticut was the surprise winner of the Big East Conference; its reward comes tonight when it plays Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. (8:30 p.m., ESPN).
Around the nation
*Michigan State assistant Don Treadwell has been hired as the head coach at Miami, Ohio, replacing Michael Haywood.
*New Pitt coach Mike Haywood has been jailed on a domestic violence charge after a struggle at his South Bend home. Haywood was arrested about 3 p.m. Friday after a custody issue developed with a woman with whom Haywood has a child.
*Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck says he's focused on his team's Orange Bowl game Monday night against Virginia Tech rather than on whether he'll turn pro after the season. Luck, a sophomore, is projected as the likely No. 1 overall pick in April if he decides to leave school.