SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has a degree in political science and even has worked on a presidential campaign, but has no interest in trying to lobby for a spot for the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish in the national title game.
Kelly said Tuesday that’s because he doesn’t think it would help the Irish, who are 9-0 for the first time since 1993.
“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,” he said. “The only thing that does is winning football games, so I try spend all my time and energy focused on how we can get another win and getting to 10.”
Getting victory No. 10 doesn’t appear to be that difficult, considering the opponent Saturday is Boston College (2-7), who has just one win against FBS opponents. But the Eagles also have a history of beating unbeaten Notre Dame teams. They did it in 1993, when the Irish were 10-0 and again in 2002, when the Irish were 8-0 and won 14-7.
The Irish needed triple overtime to beat Pittsburgh (4-5) on Saturday, a team it was favored to beat by more than two touchdowns.
Kelly believes the Irish learned their lesson, saying they showed in coming back from a two-touchdown deficit they have the heart of a champion. Now it’s time to show they have the head of a champion, he said.
“The head of a champion understand that each and every week you’re going to get the opposition’s very best,” he said.
To play for a championship, the Irish are going to need some help. The Irish sit fourth in the BCS standings, behind Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon and likely won’t finish in the top two without some upsets.
Kelly has had a team left out of the BCS championship game before. In 2009, when he was at Cincinnati, the Bearcats finished the regular season 12-0 but missed out on the title game by .555 in the BCS standings. It was actually closer than that. The Bearcats appeared headed to the title game until officials put an extra second on the clock at the Big 12 championship game and Hunter Lawrence kicked a 46-yard field goal to put Texas in the title game, leaving Kelly and his Cincinnati team out.
Kelly said he’s handling this season the same as he did in 2009.
“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,” he said.
The difference, though, is Cincinnati doesn’t have Notre Dame’s history. No perfect Notre Dame team has ever failed to win a national championship.
But one previous Irish team has been further behind in the polls at this point. The 1973 team coached by Ara Parseghian was never ranked higher than No. 5 until beating Miami 44-0 in the season finale. That Notre Dame squad went into the Sugar Bowl ranked No. 3 and won the national championship when it beat top-ranked Alabama 24-23.
The Irish have been 9-0 two other times and not ranked No. 1, in 1948 and 1970, but had been ranked No. 1 earlier in the seasons. The 1948 team finished the season 9-0-1 and the 1970 team was 10-1. Both finished the seasons ranked No. 2
Notre Dame supporters this season will argue the Irish should be in the title game because it won four games against ranked teams, beating then-No. 10 Michigan State, then No. 18 Michigan, then No. 17 Stanford and then-No. 8 Oklahoma and that the Irish have the nation’s 10th best total defense and second-ranked scoring defense.
Critics, though, would point out only No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 16 Stanford remain ranked, that the Irish have struggled at home, winning five games by a combined 23 points and needing overtime to win two of them and that the offense is 61st in the nation in total offense.
But don’t look for Kelly to join the argument. When asked whether when he took the Notre Dame job three years ago he thought an undefeated Notre Dame might be left out of the title game, Kelly said he wouldn’t have ruled the possibility out.
“If you told me that Alabama and Oregon were also undefeated as well as Notre Dame, I would say, ‘Well, there is a chance.’ Those are teams that have been here and done that. Notre Dame hasn’t done it in a while. Those teams are undefeated, too. I would say, ‘Well, there is a chance we may get left out.’”