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Kelly caught in another postseason dilemma

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, November 8, 2012

Just three years ago, then-Bearcats coach Brian Kelly had to fend off BCS hype and keep his 9-0 Cincinnati team focused on the homestretch. In 2012, the Irish coach finds himself in a similar situation with a 9-0 Notre Dame team.

But now, Kelly has experience on his side.

“I think I’ve handled it in the same way [as Cincinnati],” 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.”
At 9-0 for the first time since 1993, the Irish have faced their fair share of detractors, with many calling attention to the weakened state of the Big Ten and sub-par performances at home. The Irish currently sit behind Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon in the latest BCS Standings, after dropping one spot following Oregon’s 62-51 win at No. 17 USC on Saturday.

At Cincinnati in 2009, Kelly’s Bearcats held strong at No. 5 in the BCS for much of the season, waiting for an upset of a ranked team. Similar to that Cincinnati team, the Irish enter the lighter part of their schedule waiting for a top-three upset. But Kelly said the rankings at this point in the season is out of his control.  

“I knew we couldn’t control the ultimate goal,” he said. “We couldn’t control it in Cincinnati. The way the BCS is set up right now, if you have more than two undefeated teams you can’t control it.

“Now, in two years when you have four teams that can play, yeah, now you can control things a little bit more. 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.”

That Cincinnati team eventually moved up to No. 3 in the BCS by regular season’s end, and was nearly in contention for a national championship berth until No. 2 Texas won the Big 12 Championship with a last-second field goal. If Texas would have lost the title game to Nebraska, the Bearcats would have been one of two undefeated teams from a BCS conference going into Bowl Selection Sunday.

“If a field goal goes awry against Nebraska, Texas, it changes things,” Kelly said. “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 that these guys play better against [Boston College].”

While Notre Dame carries more BCS clout than his former Cincinnati squad, Kelly said he was unsure where the Irish could end up given the number of remaining undefeated teams ahead in the rankings.

 “If you told me that Alabama and Oregon were also undefeated as well as Notre Dame, I would say, ‘Well, there is a chance,'” Kelly said. “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.'”

When asked whether the undefeated season and high BCS ranking meant Notre Dame “is back,” Kelly said he will leave it up to everyone else to decide.

“I don’t know that we have a measuring stick for it,” Kelly said. “I think it’s measured by everybody else in terms wins and losses. Our players want to win as well, but I don’t think it’s something that we really spend much time thinking about relative to we’re back or not back. I think we take care of how we play on Saturdays, and then we kind of let other people decide whether that’s the case or not.”

Contact Andrew Gastelum at [email protected]