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Irish have been in this spot before

So now you start to believe what you see, against better judgment and the scream of history in your ear.

Brian Kelly has this thing rectified, as Lou Holtz once said. The ship has turned into the wind. The kids in the gold Notre Dame hats are buying in totally, every chip shoved to the middle of the table and nobody looking for a place to fall down the way they have so often in these last 15 years of (mostly) wandering in the wilderness.

And I guess here we should mention that everyone was saying much the same thing back when Tyrone Willingham was 8-0 and coming home in triumph from Florida State in 2002.

And we should mention it looked like they were all buying into Charlie Weis, too, after the Bush Push saved No. 1 USC from Notre Dame’s clutches in 2005.

And we should mention that Notre Dame, 7-0 for the first time since that magical 8-0 start, plays its biggest game Saturday since USC’s great escape.

Beating Michigan and Michigan State and Stanford, that’s all fine, but it’s not Oklahoma in Norman, where the Sooners are 79-4 under Bob Stoops. Oklahoma’s where believing what you see becomes either what’s really there or just another mirage. It’s where we find out if Brian Kelly’s favorite word – “process” – is the real deal, or just warmed-over Charlie or Ty.

“Coach Stoops has done what we’re looking to do here, and that’s build a program on consistency,” Kelly said. “That’s where we want to be.”

And, yes, there are reasons to think they’re getting there, despite all that screaming history. Oklahoma could expose it all as just another shuck, but this feels different, somehow. Notre Dame’s offense is still legitimately suspect, but its defense is not.

And so far, this is not a team that has been prone to the pratfalls of its predecessors.

That 8-0 Willingham team, for instance?

Came home and lost to Boston College, and everything came apart thereafter.

Kelly’s team?

Beat Michigan State, beat Michigan, won the next we’ll-see-if-they’re-for-real showdown against Stanford, and did not get trapped by the trap game against BYU.

That’s a game previous Notre Dame teams would have lost. This one did not.

And so now you believe what you see, and even what can scarcely be fathomed at this point. There’s a chance – a tiny, barely-visible-to-the-eye chance – that the Irish could wind up in the BCS title game. No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida are on a collision course that’s liable to knock one of them out. No. 4 Oregon still has No. 9 USC, No. 7 Oregon State and No. 17 Stanford.

No. 3 Kansas State has Texas ahead.

And Notre Dame, of course, will have to beat Oklahoma and USC.

History screams that it won’t happen. But sooner or later, history’s gotta be wrong, right?

“We know the challenge in front of us,” Kelly said this week. “Year in and year out, you know Oklahoma is gonna be part of the conversation. And that’s where we want to get our football program. We’re nowhere near that yet.

“We think we’re moving in the right direction, we’re trending in that direction, but I think the hallmark of great programs is that consistency we saw here for a number of years that we haven’t seen.

“We want to bring that back. That takes time. And that takes a lot of winning.”

Might as well get started.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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