- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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The easy part of not coaching at Notre Dame? There is usually still a conference title to play for after a loss or two in September.
The independent Fighting Irish found themselves without that carrot ahead of them following their 3-2 start last month, which saw their BCS-bowl hopes on life support. Three wins since have injected some hope into a possible destination, and they have even relaxed the program as it relates to big-picture goals.
"This is the first year we've even talked about bowl games and things of that nature," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "We were too busy kind of putting the thing together and you know what I mean, talking about building it from day to day. And last year, if anybody brought up anything relative to a bowl when you're on the run that we were last year, we would have taken their tongues out.
"So this year it was a bit of an adjustment and adjusting to the circumstances, but it's not normally something that we would do. The circumstances are unique, where you're not dealing with a conference championship, though."
Two very winnable games remain before a second bye week, which will offer a reprieve before facing the physical twosome of BYU and Stanford to finish the regular season. The Cardinal are the only team to deliver Notre Dame a November loss in their 11 final-month games under Kelly.
A program that made the BCS title game last season and publicly declared that finale as its goal this year had its dreams die early. But the Irish can still play their way into a BCS bowl and, for a change, are not shy about saying that.
"We had to reshape our goals," Kelly said. "And the conversation we had after the bye week was, All right, we've got six games, what do you want to achieve? And our team wanted to win every game they played and have an opportunity to get back to a BCS game. So redefining them. Then we broke them down into like we normally would, how we prepare, the will to prepare, to go out there and practice and understand how that's going to dictate wins and losses.
"We're down to two more games before the bye week. So we can see how this is moving forward. So I think breaking it down and showing them what's in front of them and then highlighting obviously how important November is to get to those goals, it's kind of where we're at and it's communicating where we need to go."