SOUTH BEND – It would be difficult to throw a football on any college campus in America and not have it reined in by a cynic that believes that success on the gridiron and in the classrooms of that university are mutually exclusive. Just don't toss that pass in the vicinity of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
This Saturday two of the country's elite academic institutions, which also happen to be among the best football teams found anywhere, will do battle in South Bend as Stanford visits Notre Dame Stadium (3:30 p.m., NBC).
“It doesn't get enough attention,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said, “that you have two outstanding academic institutions that are ranked so high in terms graduation rates… as well as on the football field.”
Notre Dame (5-0) has climbed to seventh in the nation in football, while the Cardinal (4-1) are ranked 17th in the latest polls. Both schools are ranked in the top 20 by the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, which makes this the first time that two schools – and football programs – rated that highly in the two areas, meet on the football field.
“That is one of the reasons that I came to Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that you could do it in the classroom and you can certainly do it on the football field.”
Stanford finished fourth in the country last season and graduated the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft (quarterback Andrew Luck). In the case of Notre Dame, they have climbed to its highest position in the national polls in six seasons and are projected to have at least two (tight end Tyler Eifert and linebacker Manti Te'o) very legitimate candidates for selection in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. So that flies in the face of criticism that talented athletes can't also undertake being challenged academically as well.
But the challenge for Kelly, according to the coach, is that he still needs to prove that a team can win a championship, while simultaneously graduating a very high percentage of its student-athletes. The Irish have the classroom part down pat, now Kelly wants the football part taken care of.
“We haven't validated anything yet,” Kelly said in regards to a championship. “I am not frustrated that you can't do it at Notre Dame. There is hard work just like there is anywhere else in building a program. But in no way do I believe that you can't, after my three years here at Notre Dame that you can't be a competitive BCS football team year in and year out.”
In the case of both programs, the high academic requirements, which are often used as an excuse for not achieving greatness, actually can be a positive because it singles out that pool of talent that can succeed in both arenas. And with that national reputation in both areas, it allows the coaching staffs to sell their product in all 50 states – and even beyond. When Stanford recruiting coordinator Mike Sanford was hired two seasons ago, he began dividing not just the United States up among the Cardinal assistant coaches, but he threw in Canada and Mexico as well.
“The brand of Stanford is so powerful both nationally and even internationally,” Cardinal recruiting coordinator Mike Sanford explained, “not just with the university, but now our brand has become so powerful with the football program.”