Crescendo?

Notre Dame is 10-1 under head coach Brian Kelly in November. But can the Irish improve enough over the next two weeks against two powerful offenses to make the final month matter this fall?

After four games and exactly one-third of the 2013 regular season slate in the books, it appears Notre Dame's faithful can be divided into four camps and their opinions on Brian Kelly's Irish to date:

Camp One -- Those that Remember 1997-2011: "We're 3-1, and 15-2 since the beginning of last season. What are you complaining about?"

Camp Two -- Those that Remember 2012: "We've regressed, why? I like winning, but Notre Dame can't compete with Stanford much less Alabama. We're second-tier, on the outside-looking-in, and 2013 is more likely to get worse, not better."

Camp Three -- The Sky is Falling: "Fire someone. Fire the coordinators. Kelly needs to call the plays. Diaco has been exposed. The defense is too slow and lacks leadership. Did I mention they can't tackle. Where's the high-tempo offense? Why can't we run the ball? Why aren't Redfield, Folston, and Bryant starting? What about Zaire? Fire someone or Oklahoma is going to kill us. Fire someone anyway. Where's Joe Moore? Where's Bettis. Why don't we have a fullback. Why don't we have a fast quarterback? Why don't they throw to the tight end? Why don't they throw deep more? Why don't they throw short more? I don't care if other teams have good players, this is unacceptable. Look what Wisconsin did to Purdue. Look what Akron and Connecticut did to Michigan. Look what Fordham did to Temple. What would happen if we played Texas A&M? Or Alabama A&M? Why can't we recruit a great quarterback? What other freshmen can we play?"

Camp Four -- Those that Know Two Months Remain: The only group living in the present…

Why? Because as a sub-par head coach, but wise man once mused, "You are what you are…" and right now Notre Dame is a 3-1 football team with a chance to take a major leap in the polls this week, solidify it the next, and head into its mid-October bye with two weeks to prepare for its wounded chief rival. A BCS Bowl berth remains a distinct possibility.

North or South?

Notre Dame improved greatly under Kelly in 2010. They did the same in 2012. They decidedly did not in 2011. Which way will they go this fall?

"The team is just evolving," said Kelly Sunday in his weekly conference call. "What we were struggling with was playing 60 plays really well and a half dozen plays not so well. I think we're getting closer to playing every player and every play. That's how you evolve into November, where everybody, all 11, are fitting the plays correctly each and every time."

Considering my preview of the 2013 season was titled, "Evolution," I can't in good conscience join the griping majority wondering what's wrong with the process in South Bend.

Admittedly, some semblance of consistency would be comforting. Instead, Irish fans are likely to see more growing pains as Kelly's crew attempts to grind out another win.

"I think we're still trying to find ourselves in the running game," Kelly said. "The running back position, we're rotating four guys right now. I think you're seeing a lot. We saw two freshmen play for us at the wide receiver position. So I think there's a great deal of development going on there.

"I think defensively, you know, the middle linebacker position, Jarrett Grace, playing really a lot on Saturday, played a strong game for us. I think our secondary is evolving and playing better and better. They were much more physical in the way that we want them to play.

They don't have to be good enough to win the national title, or beat Stanford this Saturday. They do, however, have to be better across the board to defeat Oklahoma, easily the most talented team the Irish have faced to date.

Notre Dame opens as an underdog of 3.5 points to the No. 14 Sooners Saturday. Prior to the season, the Irish were a favorite of anywhere from one to two points. That's a big, troubling swing if you follow the machinations of Vegas.

Of note, the Irish have been a home underdog under Kelly just twice:

  • Favored by four points in September 2010, Stanford rolled Notre Dame, 37-14 en route to a 12-1 season...
  • Two month later, five-point favorite Utah was dominated in every facet of the game by Kelly's then sub-.500 Irish, a 28-3 victory that included a special teams touchdown and three-touchdown day for Rees. Notre Dame did not lose again to finish 8-5.

Saturday's opponent falls between the vast gap existing between the 2010 foes listed above. Oklahoma is light years better than the Utes, but not likely within shouting distance of the Andrew Luck-Jim Harbaugh-led Cardinal crew that murdered everyone outside of Oregon.

The question is: Which Notre Dame team will show up to tangle with a Bob Stoops squad hell-bent on revenge? One that resembles the 2012 squad that repeatedly found a way, including a 30-13 humbling of the Sooners in Norman? Or the tentative team that tip-toed into Ann Arbor not ready for prime time?

It's time the Irish find and therefore define themselves, or by November, it'll be too late.


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