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SOUTH BEND – It's not that Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly is dismissive of what he expects from USC in today's battle between the heated rivals (8 p.m. ABC). It's just that… well, OK; he's dismissive of the subject matter.
With the Fighting Irish reaching the mountain top of college football and being ranked first in the latest BCS Standings, it is expected that Kelly's kids will have a target on their backs. So what else is new?
“I can only give you my opinion, because I don't know what it's like at Oregon or the other schools,” Kelly explained, “but we wear that and feel that every game we play. So No. 1 for us is USC is going to play their very best because they're playing No. 1. I don't think kids change when they're No. 1. They go to work the same way, they practice the same way.”
In the case of Notre Dame (11-0), half of the college football fans across America (and yes, the Irish influence reaches sea to shining sea) loathe Kelly's team and half of those fans love the Irish. So regardless of what Notre Dame's current stature is in the college football landscape, they always get every team's best shot (ask Syracuse, Tulsa or San Diego State for that matter).
“The other teams are going to play their very best, but we get that every week anyway,” Kelly said. “We get the absolute best from our opponents each and every week. So for us, it's business as usual. They're going to play outstanding football. Better be ready for USC's best.”
The Irish opposition tends to raise their game when they see those shiny golden helmets. However, Kelly expects his players to maintain an even keel. Yes, the Irish players have to enjoy being ranked as the best team in the land, Kelly said that is understandable. But that ranking won't affect how those players have prepared for the Trojans (7-4).
“Notre Dame has a unique tradition on Grace Hall that they have No. 1 illuminated at night,” Kelly said. “You would have to be living in Elkhart not to see it. Our guys don't live in Elkhart. They live right here, so they saw that they're No. 1 in case they didn't watch it on TV. So I don't remind them about the obvious. I really try to talk to them about what the next step is for us. Now that they know that Grace Hall said you're No. 1, we can move on. We went to work on what we normally do. That is all they know because that's all we tell them. They are locked in that way. What's the next thing for us?”
The mood around the Guglielmino Athletics Complex has been a tad lighter this season (never losing will do that for a program) and aside from having to deal with chicken soup references, Kelly has also been a bit jovial at news conferences this autumn.
“Look, it's a lot better when that light (at Grace Hall) is on than when it's not on,” Kelly said. “I'm sure it's better going to class and in the dorms. I'm sure it just a better feeling, a more positive approach to everything. That's unquestionable. But as it relates to does it affect the way (the players) come to work every day, no, it does not.”