FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wasnt going to start a debate about the significance of the Irishs home game Saturday night against USC.
After catching heat for downplaying Notre Dames rivalry against Michigan this season, Kelly left no doubt about the rivalry that exists between the Irish (4-2) and Trojans (4-2).
I think our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game, Kelly said during his Tuesday news conference. Its one that its on our calendar, I dont want to say a red-letter game, but one that we really look forward to. Its such a great matchup, great tradition, great history. Its part of the history of Notre Dame football that they really recognize as that one singular game.
The rivalry had been lopsided before the Irish won two of the past three games.
The Trojans put together their longest winning streak in the series 84-game history from 2002 to 09 with eight straight victories, though they had to vacate their 2005 win because of NCAA sanctions.
I think were past that, Kelly said of the series not being much of a rivalry because of the Trojans dominance. Now I think its we would hope that both programs are competing each and every year for BCS bowls and playoff opportunities, and I think thats where both programs want to be, that theyre on equal footing, that you dont have to wait three, four years to get a win.
You know, I think both programs are looking forward to those days where its a great matchup year in and year out.
The last two games were significant for Notre Dame for different reasons.
The Irish finished a 12-0 regular-season last year with a 22-13 win over USC and earned a spot in the BCS championship game. In 2011, the Trojans won 31-17 in the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium since 1990 and Kelly nearly divided his team when he talked about the difference in the players he recruited and those he inherited after the loss.
Every familys going to have good days and bad days, that might have been one of our bad days, said Kelly, whose team is 20-5 since the loss to USC two years ago. We talked about it. We aired out our differences. We took accountability for where mistakes were made, and we moved on from it. We didnt relive it. We moved from it. And so I think thats probably the point that, as you move forward, you learn from past experiences, and you build off of those past experiences.
Saturdays game will also help Notre Dame build for the future as a large number of potential recruits are expected to attend the game. Kelly said the best way to impress those high school players is by winning.
As I told our guys, this is pretty simple, right? The atmosphere, the game, the people around will take care of the environment. And then just win the damn game, Kelly said. Win the game. Thats what you need to do.
Notes: Kelly said defensive end Sheldon Day, who missed two games and played sparingly in a 37-34 win over Arizona State on Oct. 5, practiced Monday and should play Saturday. Defensive lineman and former Bishop Dwenger standout Tony Springmann, who is out this season because of a knee injury, suffered an infection after surgery but is back on track in his rehabilitation process, Kelly said.