SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The first Notre Dame game linebacker Manti Te'o can remember watching on television was the last time ESPN's College Gameday was on campus. He was thrilled by the finish.
Unfortunately for Irish fans, though, Te'o was a Southern California fan back then and the play Te'o was cheering was the "Bush Push," when USC quarterback Matt Leinart spun off one tackle and stumbled into the end zone after a shove by tailback Reggie Bush to beat Notre Dame 34-31 in Charlie Weis' first season as coach.
A lot has happened since that game in 2005, most of it not good from the Irish perspective. ESPN hasn't had much reason to consider South Bend as a College Gameday site. That's changing this season as the Irish are ranked No. 7, there's growing hope among fans they might be able to compete for a national championship and the media spotlight grows brighter on South Bend with each Irish victory. There's a sense of anticipation around campus that hasn't been felt since the Irish nearly beat top-ranked USC in that game seven years ago.
Coach Brian Kelly is telling his players not to pay attention to all the excitement, instead telling them to stick to his plan of focusing on the next opponent.
"I've worked this plan for a number of years. I've had great success with it. If they choose to continue to follow it they're going to continue to have success," he said. "It's the trust element of staying focused on what we can handle and what we need to handle and we will be fine."
It's the same plan Kelly used when Grand Valley State went 14-0 in 2002 and won a national championship, when the spotlight shining on the program came from the Detroit media. It's the plan he used in leading Cincinnati to a 12-0 start in 2009, before accepting the Notre Dame job.
Kelly talks weekly with the players about the distractions. So far, they appear to be heeding his advice. Te'o has said repeatedly the Irish believe in Kelly's mantra of using every practice to get better and focusing on the task at hand.
"I think our team has done a tremendous job in following through with the expectations that we hold for ourselves and that Coach Kelly has for us," he said. "I think that is a definite direct correlation to our success thus far in the season."
Tight end Tyler Eifert said in past seasons the Irish let the wins and losses effect how they play.
"We've just learned from our mistakes and gotten better," he said. "When you win a game, you haven't arrived. We're a good football team, but we have a long way to go."
The Irish this week face No. 17 Stanford (4-1), which has not just beaten the Irish three straight, but beaten them handily the past two seasons.
"They haven't beaten Stanford and I would say if there is one team that has beaten us physically it's been Stanford, and they know that," Kelly said.
He said the Irish can see from watching film of Stanford that it has been physically intimidating opponents, including an upset of USC.
"They don't need much push from me to know what to expect this weekend," Kelly said.
They also don't need much reminding from him about what he expects. He expects the Irish to stick to the plan.
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