You may or may not be aware that Notre Dame will visit Oklahoma on Saturday night. It’s the first time since 1966 that the Fighting Irish have traveled to Norman, and it’s kind of a big deal. College GameDay will broadcast from the OU campus Saturday morning, and Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit will call the game to a national, primetime audience later that evening. The Oklahoman has called this game the second most anticipated Sooners home game in the Bob Stoops era.
Beyond the noise, Notre Dame wants Saturday’s game to turn into a symbolic passing of the torch. Oklahoma has won one national championship under Stoops and has played for three more. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is looking to go 8-0 for the first time since 2002. A win on Saturday night would likely throw Notre Dame into the thick of the national title chase deep into November for the first time since 1993. The Irish’s next three opponents (Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest) are a combined 8-12 before a trip to USC on Thanksgiving weekend to close the regular season.
But Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly doesn’t just want to occupy Oklahoma’s usual perch among the nation’s elite for this season. Kelly wants his program to emulate OU’s dedade-plus run of success well beyond this fall.
“We want that consistency,” Kelly told the Oklahoman. “Year in and year out, you know Oklahoma is going to be part of the conversation. And that’s where we want to get our football program.
“We’re nowhere near that yet. We think we’re moving in the right direction; we’re trending the right way. But I think the hallmark of great programs is that consistency, the consistency that we saw here for a number of years that we haven’t seen; we want to be able to bring that back.
“That takes time, and that takes a lot of winning,” Kelly continued. “And that’s why there’s so much pride and tradition in their program as well.”
Indeed, Oklahoma has been a model of consistency during Stoops’ tenure. Seven conference championships. Eight BCS bowl apperances. Ten seasons of double-digit wins.
To his credit, Kelly does have Notre Dame’s needle pointed in the right direction. After posting back-to-back 8-5 marks in his first two seasons at the helm for Notre Dame, Kelly has the Fighting Irish primed to boost its win total in year three, just like he did in previous stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. After winning 10 games in his first two years at Central Michigan, Kelly led the Chippewas to a 9-4 mark in Year 3. Likewise at Cincinnati, 10-3 and 11-3 records were bettered in Year 3 as the Bearcats finished the regular season 12-0. Success at Cincinnati ultimately led Kelly to Notre Dame.
Kelly’s message to his program can be summed up as: “If you want to join ’em, beat ’em.”