Brian Kelly doesn’t have to remind his guys that they are Number One. After all, Grace Hall says it all.
“You’d have to be living in Elkhart not to see that,” Kelly said Tuesday.
Kelly doesn’t believe his team feels any more pressure this week because they are ranked #1 in the country, however, either.
“"We wear that and feel that every game we play,” Kelly explained.”We get that every week anyway. We get the absolute best from our opponents every week. For us, it's business as usual. They're gonna play outstanding football. You'd better be ready for USC's best."
Notre Dame can book its ticket to the national championship game with a win over arch rival USC Saturday at 8pm in Los Angeles. Kelly feels the series isn’t much of a rivalry right now because USC has won 9 of the last 10 meetings.
“We are getting our butts kicked,” Kelly said of the rivalry. “We gotta win some games.”
Most feel the Irish will be able to handle USC because the Trojans are in a downward spiral and quarterback Matt Barkley will not play this week due to an injury. But Kelly recruited redshirt freshman Max Wittek and feels he has what it takes.
“We don’t know a lot about Max but he is on scholarship to USC and that makes him one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Kelly said.
The Irish won’t change the defensive game plan just because there’s a freshman with little experience back there.
“We are going to do what we do,” Kelly explained. “At this point, for us to go into one game just to confuse Max---would be crazy. We are going to do what we do because that’s what got us to this point.”
And Kelly believes Wittek has a fantastic supporting cast.
"Very talented football team,” Kelly said. “Receiving corps is the best in the country in our opinion and a great tandem at running back"
In particular, Kelly was a big fan of wideout Marqise Lee.
“Incredible—the acceleration after the catch, that’s where he gets really scary. They set him up to get great 1-on-1 looks. They are putting him in a great position to get big chunk plays.”
Notre Dame won its last game at USC in 2010 but lost at Notre Dame Stadium last season in the first night game at Notre Dame in decades. Kelly feels that was a turning point for his team.
"It required all of our players to really examine how they're going to be consistent winners,” Kelly said.
Brian Kelly didn’t recruit Manti Te’o to Notre Dame. The star linebacker was already here. But if he wasn’t here, Te’o would be playing for USC in this game.
“Not very comforting,” Kelly said of the though of facing Manti. “I know he’s a pain in the butt when we go against in him in the spring. He eliminates certain plays already just by instinct.”
Kelly says his last pitch for Manti and the Heisman is clear, “win all your games.”
Kelly pointed out that some people wanted to put Manti in at running back or something like that to give him a Heisman boost. Kelly said there was no way that was going to happen.
Kelly says he has a great relationship with former Irish coaches Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz. Ara writes Kelly a note each week and Holtz is a sounding board whenever Kelly needs some advice.
Even Kelly’s predecessor, Charlie Weis sent Kelly a note last week that was “heartfelt” and “wonderful” and talking about the seniors.
For more on Notre Dame-USC, be sure to tune into Countdown to Kickoff Saturday at 7:30 Live from LA on WNDU-TV.