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Beating Stanford would be huge for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly

Former Notre Dame greAllen Pinkett said Brian Kelly's team could use more 'criminals' if they want win. | AP

Former Notre Dame great Allen Pinkett said Brian Kelly's team could use more "criminals" if they want to win. | AP

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Updated: December 27, 2011 8:09AM

A win over No. 4 Stanford and heralded quarterback Andrew Luck would be 22nd-ranked Notre Dame’s biggest victory under coach Brian Kelly. It would mean the Irish ended the regular season with a five-game winning streak. It would give them their first nine-win season since 2006 and their first November win over a top-5 team since 1993.

It would not only put an exclamation point on a difficult-to-define season but could change the perception of Notre Dame football moving forward, although you won’t hear Kelly or any of his players admit as much. To a man, they’ll tell you it’s just another game, another chance to prove they can achieve the level of preparedness and effort they have been striving for.

“It’s still about preparing the right way and then performing on Saturdays,” Kelly said. “I’ve said this a number of times. I like the way we’ve prepared. We haven’t performed on Saturdays the way we need to consistently. We’re showing that at times.

“This isn’t a referendum on our season, but it’s another step toward where we want to be [with] consistency in November. We have done very well in November, and we want to continue to build on that in this game against Stanford.”

If not for two fumbles on the 1-yard line and an inexplicable last-second meltdown at Michigan, this could’ve been a game that proves Notre Dame (8-3) belongs among the nation’s elite. A victory against the Cardinal (10-1) would still be a powerful statement, even if it is somewhat contradictory.

Beating a team of Stanford’s caliber would indicate that preseason expectations were not exaggerated, which would only make back-to-back losses to South Florida and Michigan to start the season and an uninspired effort against USC more frustrating. A loss to the Cardinal would mean a 31-13 win over then-No. 15 Michigan State would be the only significant notch on Notre Dame’s BCS belt.

“It’s not going to make or break our season, but anytime you play a top-10 opponent, to beat them would be big no matter how the rest of our season has gone,” tight end Tyler Eifert said. “To have a chance to go to a bowl game and get 10 wins would be pretty cool.”

It would be validation for Kelly’s ongoing rebuilding plan. Notre Dame will lose several key players to graduation and faces a brutal schedule in 2012. An opportunity like this might not come along for some time.

“We know what we’re capable of, and we know the first couple of games we lost we weren’t playing our best,” wide receiver TJ Jones said. “That wasn’t the caliber of team that we could be. To get a win against Stanford would be great. We definitely feel it’s in us. It wouldn’t be an unexpected win.’’

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