SOUTH BEND — The last time Brian Kelly had a bye-week schedule he could control, he blew it.
Those were the first words, in fact, out of the Notre Dame head coach’s mouth, in a one-on-one conversation in July, framing a 45-14, post-bye loss at Michigan last October. The Wolverines have followed with a 4-5 record that includes four losses by 17 points or more, while the Irish (8-0, 7-0 ACC) have concocted the nation’s longest active win streak at 14 since then.
Their most recent victory, 45-31 on the road at Boston College on Saturday, was enough for Notre Dame to hold steady Sunday at No. 2 in both major polls on a weekend in which they were the only top 5 team to see action.
It’ll be the last impression the College Football Playoff selection committee has of Notre Dame before it releases its first of five sets of rankings a week from Tuesday.
Notre Dame returns to action three days later at North Carolina (6-2, 6-2 ACC), also off this week after rallying from three touchdowns down in the second half Saturday to outlast Wake Forest, 59-53.
The Tar Heels, who were ranked as high as fifth earlier this season, re-entered the coaches poll Sunday at No. 24 and were the team receiving the most votes among the unranked squads in this week’s AP poll.
Kelly’s self-admitted bye-week miscalculations pre-Michigan were rare given his track record following open dates. He’s 23-3 (.885) in such games in his career and 12-2 (.857) at Notre Dame after a double-bye earlier this season that preceded a tottering 42-26 win over Florida State on Oct. 10.
The Irish originally had Oct. 3 off, but the open Saturdays doubled due to a COVID-19 outbreak that pushed ND’s Sept. 26 date at Wake Forest to Dec. 12. Notre Dame lost nine practice days as football shut down to control the viral spread.
When the Irish did resume ahead of Florida State, they did so with a good portion of the team coming out of quarantine or isolation late in that week.
The outlier loss to Michigan last season had so much more to do than Kelly straying from a tested bye-week formula, as chronicled in a story for the South Bend Tribune’s special season preview section in August.
For his part, Kelly said he gave the players too much time off going into the game, breaking their rhythm and their sharpness.
That won’t be the case in the week ahead, even as the Irish players go through final exam week. Kelly said Saturday that Notre Dame will do its normal “Mental Monday” routine of lifting, meeting and reviewing film, then practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.
More weight training follows on Thursday, with the players then off Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Boston College was the last game Notre Dame will play this season with competing academic demands. Spring-semester classes are set to begin on Feb. 3.
COVID testing continued Sunday for the team, with three more rounds scheduled this week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
There was speculation that the field storming by students and fans following Notre Dame’s 47-40, double-overtime victory over Clemson Nov. 7 at Notre Dame Stadium might turn into a super-spreader event.
It did not as far as the football team is concerned. Not one of the players on the Irish two-deeps missed the Boston College game because they were infected or in quarantine because of contact tracing.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the Tribune on Nov. 8 that the students who were admitted to the game had all been recently tested and those with positive tests or quarantine obligations had their tickets electronically voided.