SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly has been here before.
The Notre Dame coach has his team undefeated, at 9-0, and making a bid for a national title. Except, the Irish are fourth in the Bowl Championship Series standings, and would need some help to move up into one of the top two spots.
Kelly was in the same situation in 2009, when his Cincinnati team finished third in the BCS, behind also-undefeated Alabama and Texas, who played for the national title.
“I think I’ve handled it in the same way,” Kelly said. “I never went out in the media and tried to defend what we did. All I said was that the schedule was set, here is who we play, and all we can do and all we can control is winning these football games.
“If a field goal goes awry against Nebraska, Texas, it changes things. It could be the same situation again with Notre Dame three years later. I can’t control any of that. What I can control is to make sure these guys play better against BC.”
Notre Dame, which travels to Alumni Stadium to face Boston College Saturday night, began the season unranked, and has risen into the national title picture. But right now, they’re not quite in the right spot.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Kelly is going to turn to politicking to move up.
“It doesn’t help,” he said. “If it helped, you know me, I could talk all day. If it really helped I would be on the stump for it, but it doesn’t do anything. The only thing that does is winning football games.”
It was the same mentality he took at Cincinnati, where his team ended up finishing out the ’09 season in the Sugar Bowl, where the Bearcats were crushed by Florida. Of course, Cincinnati is not exactly a team with a national following.
Not exactly Notre Dame, in essence. There has been the thought that the Fighting Irish aren’t getting the respect they usually garner, which might help put them over the top and into the title game.
But, as Kelly said, “Those are teams [Alabama and Oregon] that have been here and done that. Notre Dame hasn’t done it in a while.”
In 2014 the BCS goes to a four-team playoff system. That might just change Kelly’s stance — if Notre Dame is again in this position.
“In two years when you have four teams that can play, yeah, now you can control things a little bit more,” he said. “You may be talking more about your teams. But you can’t now. Maybe in two years you’ll find me talking a lot more about it.”
Although BC, at 2-7, isn’t likely to be a major stumbling block for the Irish, there is history behind that possibility.
Not that Kelly is focusing on what has happened in the past.
“History will have no effect on how this team plays,” Kelly said last week. “What will affect how this team plays is how they prepare during the week and that is what I can control and that’s what our players can control.”
BC has handed the first loss of the season to two Notre Dame teams making bids for undefeated seasons, most recently in 2002. In Tyrone Willingham’s first year as head coach, Notre Dame was 8-0 before an upset to BC ended the team’s title hopes, and BC did the same to a 10-0 Lou Holtz team in 1993.
“I really focus strictly on the guys that are in the room and how we prepare them,” Kelly said. “I do not use history lessons as much as I want them to realize what it takes to win week in and week out. Look, there will be enough of that out there for it to kind of get to them.”
Except, it doesn’t appear to have gotten to them.
As linebacker Manti Te’o said, “I don’t know what happened in ’02 and 1993. It doesn’t really matter to me. What matters is what happens in 2012.”
Kelly was born in Everett and raised in Chelsea, so he’ll have a cheering section this weekend. Kelly, who also played football at Assumption College, said he’s already taken care of his friends and family. But, he was asked, are there more calls for tickets with Notre Dame coming in undefeated? “The demands were the same my first time going back [with Grand Valley State],” he said. “The expectations are always high.”