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Monday, November 7, 2011
Next two games lack punch

By Matt Fortuna

Notre Dame plays Stanford on Nov. 26 in a game that could have national title implications for the Cardinal. On the two Saturdays before then, the Irish play ACC teams with identical 2-7 records (and identical 1-5 conference records).

Brian Kelly's record in November/December regular-season games should improve to 24-6 by the time he and his team hop on a plane to Palo Alto, Calif. And he should be riding a 16-game late-season winning streak by then, too.

Whether or not Manti Te'o plays his regular number of snaps -- which means almost all of them -- in those two games should not affect those potential marks for what should be an 8-3 Notre Dame team going into its regular-season finale. Whether or not Braxston Cave is snapping the ball back to Tommy Rees should not affect them, either.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Andrew Hendrix should have some say in how Kelly and the Irish get to their respective marks through 11 games, as the sophomore change-of-pace quarterback has not seen the field in two consecutive games and will figure to challenge for much more playing time -- if not the starting job entirely -- in 2012.

Notre Dame survived a road scare against a stingy Wake Forest team Saturday, winning for the first time under Kelly when trailing at halftime. There is something to be said for that, regardless of opponent. And especially just nine days after a collapse in the locker room seemed like a legitimate possibility.

The Irish beat the Demon Deacons while missing Cave for the majority of three quarters, with a banged-up Te'o for the fourth quarter and without Aaron Lynch in spurts. (And without senior ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson, something they're getting used to.)

If Rees, Jonas Gray, Cierre Wood, Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert, Harrison Smith or Robert Blanton wanted to sit either of these next two games out, the Irish would probably cruise past the Terrapins or Eagles without one -- or even a few -- of them, too.

"I want winning to become a habit," Kelly said Sunday. "I don't want it to be something that comes and goes. We want to get to that level where we expect to win each and every week. That's something that we're not there yet, but we're on that journey. That's about playing consistently, as well, not having any games that you don't play your best. So I would say, as we continue to check off a lot of the boxes, the next one is to make winning a habit."

No problem, at least for the immediate future. But we really won't know much more than that until Stanford.