The 19th century international philosopher and author George Santayana famously opined that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. With all due respect to Mr. Santayana, who never made it to a BCS game according to our research, Irish coach Brian Kelly begs to differ.
Brian Kelly doesn't plan on bringing up upset losses in 2002 and 1993 to this year's team.
Notre Dame’s road victory at No. 8 Oklahoma Saturday cleared a smooth path for the Irish to coast into Southern California with an undefeated record as national title contenders at the end of November. Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest — with a combined record of 10-14 — are barely blips on the radar. But they are the exact type of road bumps that in the past have knocked the wheels off of promising Notre Dame seasons and sent them careening into a roadside ditch.
Upset losses to Boston College in 2002 (after an 8-0 start) and earlier in 1993 (after a 10-0 start) may weigh on the minds of Notre Dame faithful in the coming weeks. Kelly said he’ll lean on much more recent memories to keep his players focused from now until the end of the season.
“History will have no effect on how this team plays,” Kelly said Tuesday afternoon. “I really focus strictly on the guys that are in the room and how we prepare them. I do not use history lessons as much as I want them to realize what it takes to win week in and week out.”
The Irish have struggled to finish strong during the past 12 years. Since 2000, Notre Dame’s winning percentage in the month of November is 58.1 percent, compared to 72.9 percent in October.
That’s a trend that Kelly appears to have turned around in his three seasons in South Bend. His winning percentage rises with each month of the season and peaks in November at 85.7. Kelly’s teams were undefeated in the final month of the season until last year’s season finale loss to Stanford in Palo Alto.
“Our schedule has really taken shape in the last couple of years so that our guys feel fresh. We’re hitting peaks in the weight room. We’re peaking out in November. We’re stronger as a football team right now,” Kelly said.
Playing well at home has been more bedeviling for the third-year coach. The Irish, especially rookie quarterback Everett Golson, struggled in close wins in South Bend this season. In four games on the road, including two against top ten opponents at the time, they have won by an average margin of 28 points.
Kelly addressed the many distractions that follow the pageantry of a Notre Dame home game in the past. Tuesday he added motivated opponents to that list.
“I think that teams come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity,” he said.
Notre Dame will get the best from Pittsburgh and Wake Forest at home in the next three weeks. Both teams are currently 4-4 and would love to play the role of spoiler to the Irish BCS hopes.
And Then There Were Four
Four undefeated teams in the top 25 fell for the first time last week, leaving Notre Dame and three others — Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon — as the remaining quartet of national championship hopefuls.
While it isn’t likely that all four will finish the season unbeaten, a 12-0 Notre Dame team could wind up as the odd man out. Kelly said Tuesday that he didn’t spend anytime studying BCS percentage points and AP poll rankings to decipher all the hypothetical scenarios of his team’s bowl fate.
“I got out of politics once, I’m not getting back in,” he said.