The Committee Continues

In today's notebook, Irish head coach Brian Kelly discusses his relationship with Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke, scheduling standards for the program's future, the defense's ability to contend with Michigan's pro-style offense, and finding the right fits from a deep, unproven collection of running backs.

Chickening out. Rivalries vs. regionals. Fan-fueled hatred.

The off-season prelude to Saturday's contest between the two winningest programs in college football history didn't disappoint. The game, like many of the recent 29 that have come before it, is unlikely to, either.

And as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly noted in his opening address today, that "nonsense" will have little bearing on what goes down between the lines.

"It's a great and historic rivalry that we'll be playing this Saturday, so let's get that out of the way right away so we don't have to answer any more questions about this rivalry," said Kelly, a pre-emptive strike to avoid a press conference too heavily focused on his comments pertaining to the rivalry Sunday afternoon.

While no queries were made on Kelly's definition of a rivalry thereafter, the Irish leader was asked (again) about his relationship with Michigan head coach Brady Hoke who was outspoken this summer about Notre Dame's role in putting the matchup on hiatus.

"We have not talked about it," said Kelly of Hoke accusing Notre Dame of 'Chickening Out.' "I think people have made a lot of his comments, and look, he (was) talking to his alums. I didn't take anything from it, really. I know Brady. He's never been one to show disrespect to anybody or anything. It's really, for me, about two programs that share a border, that it makes sense to play. I get that. It's just there's so many complexities with our schedule and our agreement with the ACC that it's difficult and frustrating. I can see the frustration that would be there.

"But he's a first-class guy. I know him from our time way back; he was at Grand Valley State and Ball State. There's nothing there other than he's done a great job at Michigan, and I know he wants to continue to play Notre Dame, and we'd like to oblige him. But right now it's difficult with the commitments that we have."

Scheduling Standards

Five ACC games, USC, Stanford, and Navy. That's the annual baseline for Notre Dame's future schedules beginning in 2015. How might the remaining four of 12 look?

"We're trying to obviously keep a national perspective on it," said Kelly. "A program like Michigan is coming off, but Texas is coming on. So I think you're going to be trading national profile programs for that.

"I think we're also looking at areas where our Shamrock Series can be touted or played geographically, whether that be on the East Coast or in some areas that geographically make sense to us. And then I think finally where we can bring this schedule together in balance and still give us the quality schedule that when the (playoff selection) committee looks at a schedule on a whole and decides who of those four, or maybe down the road eight teams relative to playoffs, that they can look at our schedule and say, that's a deserving schedule.

"We have to balance all those things together."

In Their Comfort Zone

Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco have faced myriad offensive systems over their first 40 games as an Independent program. With no conference tendencies, and opponents stretching from coast to coast, variations and approach are a natural by-product.

Michigan brings another, one old school fans will likely embrace. The Irish defense certainly does.

"We're built that way," said Kelly of facing an offense that can utilize a fullback and is based on power sets. "You know, we're 250 (pounds) at middle linebacker, we're not 225. We're 250 at the drop, 250 at the cat. We're 320 (up front). We're a bigger, physical football team. We prefer that kind of matchup. That doesn't mean it's going to be easier.

"You look at our matchup against Stanford (2012) and you look at it even against Pittsburgh last year that Coach (Paul) Chryst brought in a Wisconsin-like prototypical kind of offensive structure. Those teams that are big and physical, you know, that's how we're built.

"We played Oklahoma last year when they spread it out and went no 'back, and I thought we played very well. We can adapt, but we are structured physically to play (against) this style of football. We're certainly in a position where we don't feel we go into this week and feel like we're undermanned."

Augmenting Michigan's power are the fleet feet and dangerous right arm of dual-threat triggerman, Devin Gardner.

"From a running standpoint, I don't know that we've ever played a guy like (Denard) Robinson," said Kelly of his previous three seasons facing Michigan's since-graduated quarterback. "I mean, just electric speed that he could immediately go 80 yards. I can't remember a quarterback that I've coached against in my time that was that electric and dynamic.

"Having said that, Gardener throws the football with much more accuracy. He pushes the ball down the field very easily. And he certainly scrambles very well, keeps his eyes downfield and is not afraid to run."

Backfield in Motion

The three-season Kelly regime has maintained at least one constant in its approach: the offense invariably features more than one running back.

From Armando Allen, Cierre Wood, and Robert Hughes in 2010, to Wood and Jonas Gray in '11, to Theo Riddick, Wood, and (to a lesser extent), current junior George Atkinson last year, a tandem or trio has shared the load for Kelly's multiple-offense attack.

Saturday's opener at Temple featured five Irish runners carrying the football. While its unlikely all five will get a shot Saturday, each from the quintet -- not to mention injured sixth Will Mahone -- has a chance to emerge over the remaining 11 contests.

"We played five because we're still trying to find out who that guy is," said Kelly of his search for a leader runner, or runners. "We're not at that point where (for instance) last year we knew when we were going to close out the game, Theo Riddick was in the ballgame. We're not there yet, we're still searching for that.

"Everybody is going to have an opportunity to show that that's their job. All of them are very versatile. They all can do the things that we're asking them to do. We're still searching for that guy to close out ballgames."

Asked to differentiate between his three juniors, Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, and (redshirt-sophomore) Amir Carlisle, and the freshmen pair of Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, Kelly offered, "It's too early to tell. I think they all have things that they need to work on. I don't think we left the (Temple) game going, 'You know, we know everything about all these guys.'

"I think it's going to take some time for all of them to continue to work and continue to progress…it's going to take us some time to kind of work through it. We've got some growing pains a little bit at the position, but they're all gifted players. I think it's going to take us a little time as we grow. We're willing to play them all and we're willing to take all of them and their strengths and try to make it work at that position.

"They all have confidence that they can do the jobs that we're asking them to do, including Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston," he continued. "I thought they all went in there and showed that they can help us, but we're not going to answer the questions about who's one, who's two, who's three, four, five. It's going to take us a few weeks before we get to that."

It's a question in need of an answer, however temporary, Saturday night. Top Stories