It's the beginning of week 9 in college football and Notre Dame Football is in a good place. The Irish are 6-1 on the season, ranked No. 9 in both polls, on pace to break some school records on offense, and are about to enter the soft part of the schedule.
Except, that last part isn't true. This late season soft schedule has turned out to be a lot tougher than anyone could have imagined.
This is the second straight season Notre Dame has started a campaign 6-1 and the Irish even moved to 7-1 last year before falling apart at the seams down the stretch and finishing 26th in the AP Poll. As someone who didn't think it'd be easy to dispatch 2 triple option teams, nor make it out of the Clemson-Navy-USC gauntlet with only 1 loss, I couldn't be more excited for the development and production of this Notre Dame team.
Still, much work is left to be done and with that the opportunity to check off several program goals in the coming weeks.
Beat the Teams You're Supposed to Beat
You're not always going to have a great season if you just take care of business against the perceived lesser teams on your schedule but oftentimes it goes a long way to having success.
How many games are left against these teams? Most would say only Stanford and that's probably right from a recent historical view. Yet, there's Temple and Pitt with combined 13-1 records and ranked in the polls coming up in back-to-back road games.
Obviously, Wake Forest and Boston College are such teams you're supposed to beat. They're both at the bottom of the ACC Atlantic Division and are 1-9 in league play so far.
Retain all Rivalry Trophies
Following last weekend's victory over USC the Jeweled Shillelagh is back in Notre Dame's possession. Well, the Trojans actually forgot to bring the trophy with them but once it was shipped from California the Fighting Irish now have possession of all
47 6 main rivalry trophies.
Feels great to have all the rivalry trophies back home in the Gug. pic.twitter.com/0t8wIyC4VP— Brian Kelly (@CoachBrianKelly) October 20, 2015
Notre Dame has held possession of the Shillelagh Trophy with Purdue since 2008 and won't put that on the line again until 2020.
The Megaphone Trophy has been Notre Dame's since 2011 and is up for grabs again next year. The Rip Miller Trophy with Navy has also been in Irish possession since 2011.
The Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl (or the Ireland Trophy too) is going to be on the line in a few weeks at Fenway Park against Boston College. The Irish have held that rivalry trophy since 2009.
At the end of the season, Stanford is going to look to take back the Legends Trophy which Notre Dame won last year. This rivalry trophy has been traveling back and forth from California to Indiana every year since 2011.
End the Losing Streak at Stanford Stadium
There was a time when traveling to Palo Alto in the early 1990's during the beginning of the Stanford rivalry that a win was assured and everyone would enjoy the California sun before the staff went out to recruit. Then, things changed.
Starting in 1997 a Tyrone Willingham-led Cardinal squad beat the Irish and since then it's been all downhill. Over the last 9 meetings in Stanford Stadium the Fighting Irish have just 3 victories. Notre Dame has also lost its last 3 meetings at Stanford.
Undefeated at Home
One of the things that has signaled Notre Dame's improvement under Brian Kelly is the record at home. Since that frustrating night loss to USC in 2011, the Irish are 22-3 playing inside the House That Rock Built. Setting aside last year's spectacular November meltdown Notre Dame has won 22 out of their last 23 home games.
Thanks to the Shamrock Series there is only one more home game on the slate this year, against lowly and still rebuilding Wake Forest. If the Irish win it'll be 2 undefeated home campaigns in 4 seasons.
Late Boost to Recruiting
Notre Dame really pushed all of their chips into the middle of the table this season while agreeing to the Showtime series "A Season With" but also by the way they've recruited for the 2016 cycle. The Irish took a lot of perceived project players early in the year--through today 11 of the 17 commits remain 3-stars in the Composite rankings--and were betting on a strong record this season bringing forth several highly rated recruits.
The recent flipping of Alabama commit Khalid Kareem is an early sign that the pay-off could well be worth it if Notre Dame continues to pile up the wins.
No More 8-5 Ceiling
Notre Dame won 9 games in 2013 and 12 games in 2012 but I'm sure you've heard that Brian Kelly is a "8-5 type of coach" or some such similar statement from many folks around the country. Despite averaging 9 wins per season through his first 5 years, the prior campaign ended in 8 wins as did the first two, so ergo, you're an 8-win coach.
As much as blanket statements like that can give you a headache, a good way to change that #narrative is to win 10 or more games. Notre Dame has that opportunity this season and really, really needs a fresh outlook of reaching that milestone. If a playoff berth comes obviously that's amazing, if there's a major bowl invite that's great too. Either way, it'll be key for this season to move Brian Kelly out of the funk that's befallen him since the 2012 season.