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Irish, Sooners have plenty at stake in first matchup since 1999

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says balance not just QB Landry Jones is whmakes Oklahoma’s offense so formidable. | Charles

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says balance, not just QB Landry Jones, is what makes Oklahoma’s offense so formidable. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:19AM

Between them, Notre Dame and Oklahoma have won 18 national championships. They’re two of the five winningest programs in NCAA history. They’ve had 171 consensus All-Americans.

Yeah, well, college kids aren’t known for their historical perspective.

“These kids are 18, 19, 21, 22,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “I could try to engage them all I want in what happened and when, and I don’t think it’s going to matter.”

Indeed, coaches, fans and media draw on history when the present doesn’t have much to offer. But this time around, in the first meeting between the Irish and the Sooners since 1999, there’s no need for artificial sweetener. Saturday night’s game at Memorial Stadium isn’t big because Notre Dame snapped Oklahoma’s record 47-game winning streak in 1957. ESPN’s ‘‘College GameDay’’ isn’t broadcasting from its second Notre Dame game in three weeks because the Irish are 8-1 all-time against the Sooners.

This one’s big because this one matters. Notre Dame — sitting at No. 5 in the BCS standings, uncomfortably behind a logjam of undefeated titans — needs another statement victory to truly muscle its way into the national-championship picture.

And No. 8 Oklahoma — after a 24-19 Week 3 loss to current BCS No. 3 Kansas State in which fumbles by quarterbacks Landry Jones and Blake Bell doomed the Sooners — has won three in a row, averaging 52 points per game, but desperately needs to topple the last top-10 team on its schedule and avoid a second loss to stay on the periphery.

Both teams are in excellent position to earn spots in top-tier bowls, but both also can make a strong case that they’re among the best teams in the nation and deserve the right to play for a title, not just a paycheck. But with the new playoff system still two postseasons away, each needs plenty of help to sneak into one of the top two BCS spots.

“I think, clearly, that’s why there’s going to be a new BCS,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “They don’t want anybody left out. That’s not going to be the case this year, and if it ends up that there are three teams undefeated, only two are going to play. … That’s why we’ll just control what we can control.”

Whether the Irish can control Oklahoma’s dynamic offense will go a long way toward determining whether they’re still even in the national-championship conversation next week. The Sooners are 17th in the nation, averaging 488 yards per game with impressive balance — 288 through the air, 200 on the ground. Only six quarterbacks in Division I history have thrown for more yards than Jones (14,023), Oklahoma’s fourth-year starter. And all three of their feature backs are averaging at least 6.3 yards per carry, led by Damien Williams (74 carries for 552 yards and seven touchdowns).

“It’s the balance on offense; it’s not just Landry Jones,” Kelly said. “If it’s just Landry Jones, then they’re not where they are. It’s their ability to run the football equally as well as throwing the football. It’s one of the most balanced offenses in the country.”

And one of the hottest, and most confident, according to Jones. Typically, conference teams don’t like having nonconference games wedged into the league slate, breaking their focus. But with so much ground to be made up in such a short time, the Sooners — like the Irish — welcome the opportunity to make a statement and stay in the national-title picture.

And, OK, maybe they wouldn’t mind adding to the legacy of their legendary programs, either.

“These big nonconference games like this, playing big teams, definitely is what you get remembered by,” Jones said. “Around this place, you are remembered for championships, Texas games and those big nonconference games such as Florida State or Notre Dame.”

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