Asked if Notre Dame had "nothing to gain and everything to lose" in its pending matchup with 6-6 Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl later this month, Kelly offered, "I don't see how that's the case. They're a BCS team. They beat Arkansas this year. They played Louisville and Fresno tight. They're going into the Big 10. This team is going to be in the Big 10 this year. If we don't play well they'll beat us."
Officially a member of the American Athletic Conference, Rutgers is joining the Big 10 for the 2014 football season. It was no accident Kelly referred to that next step for the Scarlet Knights as "this year."
Both teams have likely already turned the page.
Notre Dame officially began its bowl preparations Sunday morning with the first of a what is expected to be 10 practice sessions. As with most teams not headed for the BCS Championship game, those practices will have a dual purpose.
"We want to win the football game first. I want to send out our football team and build momentum into 2014 with a win," said Kelly. "In particular, our seniors going out with a win. I think that's very important. They've met so much to the program. I think that's first and foremost, getting a win for our seniors and the momentum that it builds going into 2014.
"It's not a catapult into an undefeated season by any means, I don't want to overstate that, but it does leave a good feeling going into the off-season if you win the football game.
"Secondly, in 11-on-11 today (for example), which is our 1s and 2s working, I was able to get 20 reps, really good work with (freshman quarterback) Malik (Zaire) today. The young guys get a lot of work. Torii Hunter and Malik getting a lot of work today. Max Redfield played virtually all of the 7-on7s. Those kind of guys getting out there today. That would probably be equally as important."
In and out of the mixSunday's practice lasted 90 minutes and was the first without offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, now the head coach at Miami, Ohio. Kelly offered he wasn't sure who'd call plays during the Pinstripe Bowl, nor did he reveal his plans for Martin's successor.
"I'm going to coach the quarterbacks, (passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach) Mike (Denbrock) will coordinate the offense in terms of the organization of our practices," said Kelly. "I'll be very involved in things. Haven't really made a decision on how the plays will come in yet. Still kind of thinking about that.
As for the open spot on his staff of seven assistants, Kelly offered hiring isn't imminent.
"It'll be after the bowl game, but I don't know what direction I'm going to go yet, whether it's to elevate from within, certainly, or hire someone as a coordinator or hire a quarterback coach or hire a position coach," he said. "All of those are on the table for me right now."
Off the table for the bowl game are fifth-year senior left guard Chris Watt and senior nose guard Louis Nix. The former is out with a sprained knee (MCL); the latter no longer allowed to be part of the program after signing this weekend with an agent.
"Louis signed with an agent so he's not allowed to be part of the bowl," said Kelly, noting he was not part of Nix's decision to sign in advance of the Pinstripe Bowl. "Bowl gifts, travel, all of those things."
(With a surgically repaired knee, Nix could not have played, regardless of his amateur status.)
"We've had conversations about it," said Kelly of Nix's decision to forgo a potential fifth-season at Notre Dame. "I didn't know about signing with the agent that it was too late to inform him that by doing so, you don't…you don't get your bowl hat. You have to buy your bowl hat. You can't fly with us to New York.
"Louis in New York would be cool, especially around Christmas time. So that's unfortunate. But I'm sure he'll be fine."
Nix will receive his degree in Film, Television and Theater at the end of the fall semester. Fellow defensive lineman and first-round NFL hopeful Stephon Tuitt remains part of the Irish program and the University, his decision regarding early draft entry pending.
"He's going to class, doing the deal. All we've done is put in his paperwork to get an evaluation from the NFL," said Kelly of fairly standard practice for draft-eligible collegiate players. "I think you have to measure out a lot of things in this process. My personal opinion, which is one he'll have to ask for: I think you come to Notre Dame to get your degree. I think getting your degree is very important in this whole process.
"You look at Michael Floyd (2011 graduate), you look at Manti Te'o (2012), you look at Tyler Eifert (2012), all of those guys came back and got their degrees and then went on and had great careers -- are having great careers. Louis has his degree so I think his situation is a little bit different. I personally think if you come to Notre Dame, you want to get your degree, and that's not for Stephon Tuitt, I think that's for anybody that comes to Notre Dame."
Golson Going -- AlreadyPending his expected re-admittance to the University after serving a semester suspension, former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson will be able to update his bio and remove the "former" label.
He won't, however, join the Irish for a practice this winter. Instead, Golson will see the team in New York -- on his own dime.
"We're not going to practice on the 22nd. He's going up to New York to see his girlfriend so we're not going to have the time and place to get him in," said Kelly of Golson who's first technical day to join the program (as a re-admitted Notre Dame student) would be December 21. "He may join us in New York for a few days…assuming he's readmitted into school.
"We'll make sure we get that vetted through compliance. We're assuming he'll be readmitted. He can't do anything until the semester ends; it ends on the 20th. Once exams end, he's free to be part of what we do."
Kelly added that he's scheduled to fly down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to visit with Golson Monday (December 9).
"I think you get a better person and somebody that's even more committed," Kelly said. "He's going to be so much more committed to being a better student and in everything he does. That's going to mean a better quarterback at Notre Dame. I can't see a scenario for him not being better at the quarterback positon."
Golson will have to pay his own way to New York for any time spent with the team on this, a previously planned trip to the Big Apple.