Ties run beyond independence for BYU, ND

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- This edition of the BYU-Notre Dame series was born on the day the Cougars declared their independence, which will turn two years old when these teams square off Saturday.

The ties run a bit deeper than the pair's lack of conference membership in football, though. The private, religious affiliations of each adds another layer for an Irish squad that boasts a small handful of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"All of them have felt very comfortable in the community," coach Brian Kelly said. "I don't know what the dynamic is, but it just seems that there's a reaching out that has taken place in their time here, and it's made it, I think, a great transition for those kids."

Manti Te'o, Kona Schwenke and Chris Badger all are LDS members, with Badger returning to Notre Dame this year following his two-year Mormon mission.

Much has been made of Te'o's path to Notre Dame over BYU and childhood favorite USC, a decision he says he had prayed on. His cousin, Jray Galea'i, is a student assistant with the Cougars after chronic injuries forced him to quit his role as a defensive back.

"We wanted Manti," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We thought he was an excellent player. It was a heavy recruiting race. He had an official visit, saw everything that we had to offer, and really didn’t want BYU. Certainly our evaluation as a player was right; he’s very good."

Notre Dame, in some ways, has provided a template for football independence for BYU, which, in some ways, fashions itself as the Notre Dame of the West. The Irish and the Cougars announced their series upon the latter's defection from the Mountain West Conference, with Notre Dame scheduled to host BYU again next season before they each host a pair of games between 2014-20, with the dates to be determined.

His team continuing its pursuit of perfection, Te'o's one and only shot against BYU won't add to the intrigue Saturday -- despite the irony behind his analogy.

"It's just game seven," Te'o said. "I think I said this before: When you start to do things differently than you've done in the past, then bad things start to happen."