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One day away

Allan Joseph | Sunday, January 6, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Brian Kelly has been to three national championship games before (all while he was at Division II Grand Valley State). He lost the first one in the last two minutes of the game, and he won the next two. He knows how to play for championships. But in many ways, the BCS National Championship Game is an entirely new challenge.

“More than anything else, it’s the anticipation of the game because there’s such a lead-up for this one with all of the media attention, where at Grand Valley State, we were staying at the Best Western,” he said. “I don’t know that anybody knew where we were. It was just another game. It was the championship game, but it certainly doesn’t have the same kind of feel.”

Division II football has a 16-team playoff to determine its national champion beginning immediately after an 11-game regular season. Football Bowl Subdivision football has the BCS and one game that takes place over a month after either team’s last contest.

“When you’re in a playoff structure like we were at Grand Valley State playing for a national

championship, it’s the next game. It’s the third and fourth game in a row, where this you have such a layoff. So it’s a totally different feeling,” Kelly said. “This one you’re a little bit more anxious because you want to see your team play again. It’s been such a long time.”

Kelly said he has put together an aggressive game plan. In fact, he said he thinks “the team that makes the most mistakes” will win tomorrow’s game.

“What I meant by that is that you have to be aggressive in this game,” he said. “If you’re going to sit back and hope that it’s going to come your way, you’re going to miss … This is one of those games where

you have to be aggressive, and you’re going to make a mistake. I’m not talking about catastrophic mistakes, throwing picks for touchdowns, but you may make a mistake here.”

The aggressive game plan is designed to give the Irish a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter with a big play, Kelly said.

“I think going into the game people can surmise the way this thing is going to play out,” he said. “We want to make sure that we get this thing in the fourth quarter and find a way to win the game, and that’s how the game will be managed, just like the other 12 games that we played.”

Kelly said he expects his players to be somewhat nervous, especially at the beginning of the biggest game of their Notre Dame careers. But he had confidence his Irish were used to the spotlight.

“They’ll be nervous coming out, no question: The moment, the anticipation, just the buildup to playing in the game. But once the game starts, they’ll be fine,” Kelly said. “They enjoy the attention. That’s why they go to Notre Dame. They know that they’re going to get a chance to play on national television and in front of large crowds. There will be a little bit of nervousness that will go along with the start of the game, but they’ve handled this whole process very well, and I expect that to continue tomorrow.”

Contact Allan Joseph at [email protected]