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MORRISSEY: Notre Dame has legit chance to win title after false hopes

KaprLewis-Moore (89) Matthias Farley (rear) are part Notre Dame team thhas chance accomplish big things. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

Kapron Lewis-Moore (89) and Matthias Farley (rear) are part of a Notre Dame team that has a chance to accomplish big things. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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Updated: November 18, 2012 7:07AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It’s the strangest thing: The school that likes to talk about its 11 national championships doesn’t want to talk about the possibility of winning its 12th this season. The school that has had 12 undefeated, untied seasons won’t say a word about its chances for a 13th.

OK, maybe it’s not so strange that Notre Dame has gone dark on this. There’s a football coach involved, and his sworn duty is to tamp down any lofty talk until it sounds something like: For God’s sake, we’ve got BYU to worry about this week!

‘‘We don’t have a list of goals that says, hey, we want to go to the Sugar Bowl, we want to go to the Fiesta Bowl, we want to win the national championship,’’ Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. ‘‘We don’t have any of those goals. They are not written down. You won’t see them anywhere. They are not in our locker room.

‘‘All you’ll really hear us talk about are the goals as
it relates to playing the game. And if you hit these goals, you’ve got a great chance to win.’’

But you can bet that somewhere deep down, hidden like a homegrown spy cell, Notre Dame players have thoughts of an undefeated season and a national title. When you’re the Irish and don’t belong to a conference (at least not in football), what else are you supposed to shoot for?

You shoot for greatness.

For the first time in a long, long while, Notre Dame has every reason to aim high. It is 6-0 and ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll and the BCS standings. All of it wonderful.

But why stop there? Why not dream bigger?

Trust issues might be involved. Notre Dame fans have had their hearts ripped out so many times that they might prefer something that doesn’t involve pain and blood. A 10-2 record and a bowl victory sound doable and easier on the central nervous system.

It’s also true that the Boy Who Cried National Championship has gone hoarse in South Bend. Too often through the years, the talk has turned to echoes being wakened at Notre Dame. The echoes are sleep-deprived from all the times they’ve been shaken prematurely out of a deep slumber. At various points in the last 15 years, through the Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis eras, the true believers thought the Irish were back. They weren’t.

Why open yourself to more heartache and abuse?

Because you’ve got an exceptional defense led by an inspiring linebacker in Manti Te’o. Because, even though you don’t always know what you’ll get at quarterback, your team is averaging 27.3 points and 387.7 yards on offense. Because fortuitous things have been happening to your team.

Maybe this is the season. And despite Kelly’s firm hand pressing down on raised expectations, perhaps this is the real thing. Maybe we’re underestimating the possibilities for this team.

On Tuesday, someone asked Kelly about Notre Dame’s ranking in the BCS standings. He winced. What he wanted to say was, ‘‘Get back, Satan.’’ Instead, he said, ‘‘Really?’’

Yes, really, Brian.

‘‘I really don’t care,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m sorry. I know all of our fans care a lot about that stuff, and that’s great. I love seeing Notre Dame out there and having stories about Notre Dame. That’s why we came here. But I really don’t give it any thought as to . . . whether that’s a better post position for us than any other. Sorry.’’


Two games are going to decide whether this is a good season or a great season. Surely Kelly, his staff and his players know this. The Irish go to 10th-ranked Oklahoma on Oct. 27 to take on a Sooners team that destroyed Texas 63-21 on Saturday. Then they play at No. 11 USC on Nov. 24.

Everything that has happened to this point is almost like empty calories compared with those two games. If Notre Dame is worthy of its No. 5 ranking, it will take care of business Saturday against BYU.

The Irish have to grab it now. We’ve all heard that Notre Dame has a great recruiting class coming in and that Kelly is building something with permanence to it. Great. But how many times in the last 20 years have we heard the recruiting analysts give the Irish high marks? Lots.

No, you grab this now. You see the opportunity to do something special, and you go for it. Right now.

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