- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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The calendar turns to November in four days, and Notre Dame will play another football game in five days, and everything Brian Kelly has built in his four years with the Fighting Irish will begin to come to fruition.
It already had, in a sense, in this past Saturday's win at Air Force, a game that saw a true freshman (Steve Elmer) make his first career start at right guard in place of an injured starter (Christian Lombard), before sliding over to right tackle to replace another injured starter (Ronnie Stanley), with a new face popping up to his left (Matt Hegarty) and another at the opposite guard spot (Conor Hanratty) when a different starter went down (Chris Watt).
Whatever confusion might ensue from that re-shuffling should be by tempered by what Kelly has developed in South Bend, Ind. -- often conveyed to the outside world through cliches like "next-man-in" or "count-on-me." A better measurement might be this: Brian Kelly is 28-7 in November and December regular-season games as an FBS head coach.
It is a testament to the foundation that Kelly has laid at every stop, one made possible with the help of consigliere Paul Longo, the strength and conditioning coach who has been with him since his days at Central Michigan.
"You can't have a great November without a great plan as it relates to your conditioning," Kelly said Sunday. "That goes back to January. That goes back to what you do in June. If you're trying to win the battle in June and July and August, you're probably going to come up short in November. We want to make sure that the tank is full in November.
"We've done a pretty good job of it. You've got to be lucky, too. You have to stay away from the injury situation, make sure that your players are developed, count on guys like we're going to have to count on some guys to step up and play big roles for us in November."
Kelly is 10-1 in November games as Notre Dame's head coach. The lone blemish came at Stanford two years ago, and the Cardinal again look like the biggest threat to that mark and to the Irish's BCS hopes when the two teams gather in Palo Alto, Calif., on Nov. 30.
Of course, Notre Dame has three games until then, starting with Saturday's against Navy. Whether the Midshipmen defensive front sees anything unfamiliar on the other side of the ball remains unclear.
Lombard had already been lost for the season with a back injury, Stanley should be fine and Watt, in Kelly's words, is "probable" with a minor knee issue -- not that the coach sounds overly-concerned about possible repercussions regardless.
"Chris Watt is a senior, he's a tough kid," Kelly said Sunday. "We think he's going to be able to answer the bell. If we can do that, we feel like we've really kept a lot of continuity there because Elmer has played a lot of football off and on, he's been with that unit a lot. If we can dodge a bullet here with Watt, we should be OK.
"If not, Conor Hanratty has been here. The guys know him. Got a good relationship with him. Those guys spend a lot of time together. We feel like we can overcome that."