NORMAN — It only counts as one.
That's the message Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly is sending to his players this week. Almost 900 miles from South Bend, Ind., Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is sending the Sooners a different message about Saturday's game in Norman.
“Probably the most anticipated game here since 2000,” Stoops said, “when Nebraska came in here ranked No. 1 in the country and we were No. 2. It was a pretty incredible day.”
This Week 9 matchup that interests even ESPN's GameDay crew is between No. 5-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 Oklahoma.
Kelly sees this as “one”? That's it? That's what history of breaking OU's record 47-game win streak and an 8-1 series advantage means to Notre Dame?
Yup. The Irish's main man, now in his 22nd year of coaching, said his players “know they haven't arrived … and they haven't reached the level that they can. That is a very good place to be.”
Kelly didn't even speak the words “national championship” during a press conference Sunday despite the Irish owning a 7-0 record.
Heck, Kelly is going into Oklahoma game week undefeated — and he asked for the typical 2 p.m. press conference to start 15 minutes late so he could enjoy his son's final football game of the season.
This is not just a Notre Dame team mentality. Al Lesar has been covering Notre Dame for the South Bend Tribune since 1991, when Irish football went from Lou Holtz's heroics to losing seasons under Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis.
“It was like this in 2002,” Lesar said. “They ended up in a BCS with Willingham. We all know how that ended.
“This isn't as significant as the big picture in terms of where they can take this. Sustainability is the main thing.
“This is just the first step in how can you maintain this.”
The void of national championship talk isn't just a this-week thing. Lesar said Kelly has the season pretty much compartmentalized, simply focusing on just one week at a time.
Why doesn't a nonconference game mean the same to Notre Dame as Oklahoma? Well, Notre Dame's football program always plays nonconference. Although the Irish have a pretty similar schedule of teams such as Michigan, Michigan State, Southern Cal, Army, Navy and Boston College, the OU game is just another one on the schedule.