FORT WAYNE – Here is all Brian Kelly sees this week, with Oklahoma coming and October lurking: Saturday afternoon.
Sunday’s just a rumor for him. Monday well, he’s heard tell of Monday, but as far as he’s concerned it’s all just wild talk, like Gulliver yammering on about Lilliput.
The blinders are on, in other words. And so Kelly talks and it’s all about Oklahoma and its quarterback, Blake Bell, the next challenge for a Notre Dame team that’s 3-1 but hasn’t scared anyone. It’s about how skilled Oklahoma is and how talented it is and how the Irish will have to play extremely well. It’s about the Now, just the Now, because without the Now, there is no Later.
We’re going to have to be in great position, extremely disciplined across the board and play our best game of the season, Kelly said Tuesday.
And beyond that?
Kelly can’t and shouldn’t talk about it. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us won’t.
The rest of us have the luxury of taking the long view, and it ain’t half bad. The Irish have No. 12 Oklahoma on Saturday and No. 5 Stanford at the far end of the schedule, and in between, there isn’t a lot. There’s Arizona State on Oct. 5 in the Shamrock Classic at Jerry Jones’ place down in Texas, and there’s Navy because Navy always seems to give the Irish fits, and there’s
OK, so there’s Lane Kiffin’s Death March, aka USC on Oct. 19. The Trojans are 3-1 but lost 10-7 at home to Washington State and wheezed past Utah State, 17-14, thanks to a fourth-quarter field goal. Marcus Allen and Charlie White and Reggie Bush used to eat Utah State’s lunch on the way to breakfast, but this is not their USC.
Next up is Air Force on Oct. 26. The 1-3 Falcons gave up 50 points per game in their last three starts. Then Navy on Nov. 2. Then 2-1 Pitt, which gave up 55 points to Duke in a 58-55 win last week, on Nov. 9. After that there’s BYU on Nov. 23, which is 1-2 with losses to Virginia and Utah, and then the end-of-season showdown Nov. 30 with Stanford in Palo Alto.
I see 9-3 out of all that, if Kelly’s Irish play like the Kelly Irish that have evolved these past four seasons. I could even be convinced to see 10-2 if they avoid getting nicked up and avoid the odd lost Saturday that occasionally jumps up and bites them.
That didn’t happen last year, though, and in truth, it hasn’t happened to Kelly in South Bend since Navy and Tulsa got the Irish back-to-back in his first season. Even with those two losses, he’s 21-2 in October and November in his three seasons. And in November alone – once the place where Notre Dame seasons went to die – he’s 11-1.
His teams get better as the season goes on, in other words. And that’s something that didn’t happen nearly enough in the pale years between Lou Holtz and the current occupant.
We’re four years into our program, Kelly said this week. Our kids believe that if they prepare the right way and they take care of the things that we’re supposed to do that they have a belief. It’s the will to prepare and it’s the belief that they can win. You carry those with you.
You still have to perform. We didn’t perform late against Michigan; we lost the football game. (But) we’ve won a lot of football games, 15 out of the last 16 games, 10 in a row at home. Those things all go toward that belief that they can win. They believe they can win no matter what the circumstances are.
Which, right now, look pretty good. To take the long view.