It’s been a heart-stopping first seven weeks of the season for No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1), which has beaten Texas, Georgia Tech and USC, among others. Its only loss came at Clemson – now ranked third in the country – by two points.
What’s the assessment of Notre Dame’s season thus far?
“Well, it’s been a challenge,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Certainly opening with Texas and USC, Georgia Tech, Virginia played us so hard – everybody plays us so hard. We’ve been able to put ourselves in a position now, No. 9 in the country. We’ve got a tough stretch ahead of us with four out of the next five on the road, but again, that’s the kind of schedule you have to play when you’re playing an independent schedule.”
Notre Dame overcame the loss of Malik Zaire (broken ankle) in the second game of the season, as backup DeShone Kizer entered the fray and threw the game-winning 39-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller with 12 seconds to go against Virginia. Kizer has since gone 4-1 as a starter.
“Well, certainly you’re disappointed for Malik because he’s worked so hard to get the opportunity (to start),” Kelly said. “He was the MVP of our bowl win against LSU. And then he gets his opportunity and you see him go down, so that’s your first feeling. But then immediately you got to flip the switch and you got to try to win the game. My job is to get the next guy in there. And DeShone, when you look at somebody, you know if somebody’s up to the task. I looked in his eyes and he had no fear. He didn’t have that look of ‘I can’t do this.’ He looked like he was ready to go. We got him in the game and he was able to muster the guys and come back with a great win for us. Sometimes you just never know until you put those kids in those situations. He’s done extremely well for us since that Virginia game.”
At this point, Notre Dame has to like its chances of making the College Football Playoff, especially now that Texas has beaten Oklahoma and Georgia Tech has beaten Florida State.
“We’ve got an opportunity to overcome (the loss to Clemson),” Kelly said. “Three out of our next five games are against ranked opponents. We’ve got plenty of teams in front of us that are doing extremely well. But (we have some) quality wins on our schedule. There’s a lot of good things that have happened for us. But the way we lost to Clemson – down there, under the conditions that we played under – we’re not trying to take anything away from Clemson. They’re a very good football team, but we think if we take care of business and continue to win football games that we’ll be part of the conversation at the end of the year.”
Kelly, 54, is in the midst of his sixth season at Notre Dame. He has no intention of leaving South Bend anytime soon – not even for an NFL job.
“I think it’s like anyting else,” Kelly said of the annual rumors that he might go to the pros. “You always have those thoughts (about coaching in the NFL), but when you’re at Notre Dame, it’s just one of those jobs that really never gives you any thoughts toward doing anything else. I love where I am. I love coaching college football. And I think the one thing you can do here is you control the payroll – which is the scholarships – you are the GM, you get to recruit the players you want and you get to make the final decisions. You’re the owner. Anytime you get control over those three things at Notre Dame, that seems to be the best job in the country.”