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For Notre Dame football, perfection may not be enough

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly

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Updated: December 2, 2012 2:19PM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A big part of Brian Kelly’s job as coach at Notre Dame is to keep his players from letting their minds wander to thoughts of national championships, BCS standings, power polls, rankings and all the other “noise,” as Kelly puts it, that the Irish can’t control.

But another part of Kelly’s job is to pay attention to all those things himself, whether he wants to or not.

Hint: He doesn’t.

“It’s a daily thing,” Kelly said of the visits from sports information director Brian Hardin to discuss the polls, who’s playing whom this week and who needs to lose in order for the Irish to better their position in the standings. “Bugs the hell out of me, quite frankly.”

Better get used to it. The topic’s unlikely to change any time soon.

After opening the season with eight consecutive games of some magnitude — be it the trip to Ireland, the home opener, the Shamrock Series game at Soldier Field, three prime-time games against ranked opponents or back-to-back clashes with elite defenses in Stanford and BYU — and winning them all, the Irish enter a somewhat- soothing stretch of seemingly sure things. It starts this Saturday with a home game against 4-4 Pittsburgh, then a trip to 2-6 Boston College, then a home game against 4-4 Wake Forest. Not exactly Murderers’ Row.

The assumption is the Irish will head to Southern California for the season finale on Thanksgiving weekend with their perfect record and national championship hopes intact.

Even the players — so conditioned to spout off the phrase “one game at a time” that they probably mutter it to themselves in their sleep — can’t help but admit that’s the goal now.

“If you come out and you lose that one game, it’s going to ruin everybody’s dreams of being the top team in the nation,” cornerback Bennett Jackson said. “Everybody acknowledges that it’s there.”

The question is whether 12-0 will be enough to get the Irish into the BCS championship game. And the Irish might not like the answer.

The prevailing opinion of those in the BCS projection business is that a perfect Notre Dame team (No. 3 in the BCS standings) will not finish ahead of a perfect Alabama team (No. 1) or a perfect Oregon team (No. 4). A perfect Kansas State team (No. 2) is tougher to slot.

So, yes, Kelly is aware that the Irish would benefit greatly if LSU could knock off Alabama on Saturday. Of if Oregon could stumble at USC. Or if Oklahoma State could upset Kansas State.

But if everyone keeps winning, you won’t hear Kelly — a guy with a degree in political science, mind you — electioneering for a better result at the polls.

“I got out of politics once,” he said. “I’m not getting back in it.”

In the beauty pageant of the BCS, it doesn’t help the Irish that they tend to win ugly, low-scoring defensive slugfests. There’s simply more sex appeal in Oregon’s thrill-a-minute offense than Notre Dame’s kill-the-minutes ground game.

Kelly’s not going to change the way his team does business at this point, though. Not when business is so brisk.

“In an ideal world, yeah, if all of your games were blowouts, that is the way you’d want them to be designed,” he said. “The reality of it is, it’s clear that you want to win your games and you want to win them in convincing fashion. But there is nothing that we’ll do practically that will emphasize that in any way. It kind of becomes a moot point for us to even discuss it.”

For a few more weeks, at least, everyone else will continue discussing it, though.

And Kelly, begrudgingly, will have to keep listening to it.

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