Notre Dame-Cincinnati: for Brian Kelly, a happy reunion?

Once upon a time, Brian Kelly was not the coach who fought regularly to never win a national championship at Notre Dame.

He was just a guy who had reversed a MAC program and worked his way up one rung to a no-power in a bigger conference. Many have done this sort of thing before him, and many have since.

But few have launched as spectacularly as Kelly did in Cincinnati, then in the Great East.

In three full seasons there, from 2007 to 2009, he won 33 games, making the school’s second, third and fourth campaigns in double digits. He won two Big East titles, his teams reaching the Orange and Sugar Bowls. His name has become as popular as any at the college level apart from Urban Meyer and Nick Saban.

Since then, Kelly hasn’t often found herself at the center of such pure excitement. He has won more games – 106 – than any other Irish coach, but it’s never enough. Not without this title.

Why is it No. 7 Cincinnati (-1½) to No. 9 Notre Dame (1:30 p.m., Ch. 5) such a big deal?

First, it’s one hell of a reunion – the first meeting of the Bearcats and the Irish in 121 years – and a planning bunch from Kelly at her old school. Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman (a former 2009 Bears draft pick) also held the same position at Cincinnati from 2017-2020, and Bearcats offensive architect Mike Denbrock spent seven years with Kelly’s team at South Bend.

Second, both teams are undefeated – and the winner will sink their teeth into the possibility of the playoffs.

And isn’t it a little crazy that the Irish – a 4-0 team after a playoff season – are underdogs?

“They understand what ground protection is,” Kelly said. “I mean, they did it 26 times in a row.”

To take that home winning streak to 27, the Irish want to see quarterback Jack Coan and his hesitant ankle go the distance and – perhaps more importantly – Freeman’s defense limit the big plays of formidable Bearcats QB Desmond Ridder.

How good are Bearcats? Some believe that Luke Fickell has trained them to a much higher level than Kelly’s. Think: bigger linemen, more rugged linebackers and safeties – about the same size and strength as the Big Ten throughout the list.

“It’s a lot more than two top 10 teams,” said Kelly. “You have to go out and attack your opponent. I mean, you can’t just sit there and wait. It’s a heavyweight fight. If you just dance and wait, you’re going to be stunned.

Who hits the canvas? Irish 27 (see what we did there?), Bearcats 21.


Charlotte (+11) in Illinois (11 a.m., BTN): A benchmark – the 49ers beat Duke, who beat Northwestern. So you know, don’t think it’s a layup for the Illini. But it’s a defense the Illini should be able to run on, and there’s nothing Bret Bielema’s side need more than a few hours to pass the ball and see big guys opening holes in the hole. ‘before. Always: a layup? It’s not basketball season yet, guys. Illini, 30-24.

Eastern Michigan (+ 1½) north of Illinois (11 a.m., ESPN +): Huskies coach Thomas Hammock is 0-2 against EMU, which is quite significant considering that NIU won 17 of 18 head-to-head before Rod Carey is not leaving for Temple. Hammock needs this one. NIU by a field goal.

Northwestern enters the field at Lincoln in 2019.
Photo by Steven Branscombe / Getty Images

Northwest (+ 11½) in Nebraska (6:30 p.m., BTN): The Huskers played some great back-to-back games and lost them both. The Wildcats were less than stellar from the jump. Three times in the past four years, however, Team Purple has found a way to win this game. Is there an upheaval in the air? Dehullers, 21-20.

No.8 Arkansas (+17) to No.2 Georgia (11:00 a.m., ESPN): With virtually no flash, the Hogs were shockingly effective. Is this the real deal? To be fair, it always feels more like a seven or eight win contract. Dogs, 30-7.

No. 12 Mississippi (+ 14½) to No. 1 Alabama (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2): You just know that Rebels coach Lane Kiffin is convinced he has an upset kitchen. And Nick Saban isn’t laughing. Tide, 38-30.

No. 21 Baylor (+ 3½) at No. 19 Oklahoma State (6 p.m., ESPN2): Dang, are these two teams 4-0? Neither is as good as it sounds. Pokes, 27-20.

My favorite favorite: Oregon No.3 (-8) at Stanford (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7): No real pressure from the Cardinal’s pass rush equals pitch-and-catch for the Ducks.

My favorite outsider: No. 14 Michigan (+2) in Wisconsin (11:00 a.m., Fox-32): We always pretend badgers are good? Truly?

Last week: 7-1 in a row, 4-4 ATS.

Season to date: 27-12 in a row, 24-15 ATS.

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