ND-Kentucky comes amidst Irish moment

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- I admit I am no expert on the matter, but it seems to me there are two Notre Dames. There is the Notre Dame of nationally televised football games and Rudy and overhead shots of the Dome and debates on PTI about Charlie Weis and "relevance."

And then there is the thing itself. There are the bricks and mortar, this pastoral campus in lake effect snow-riddled South Bend, Ind., where people go to classes and eat pizza at Reckers cafe and oh, by the way, "the basketball team is pretty good too."

Were it not for Thursday's well-timed date against defending national champion Kentucky, it seems entirely possible this fact would have been lost in the fray of holy-Touchdown-Jesus-Notre Dame-is-good-at-football-again? But throughout the past decade of Notre Dame football, Mike Brey and the basketball team have been chugging along quite well, thank you very much, winning the occasional Big East title and/or Big East Player of the Year award. Irish basketball has been football's less mercurial, more reliable, less interesting sibling. Compared to Notre Dame football, it has been downright boring -- and I mean that as a compliment.

So maybe, now that football has risen again to prominence, the stars have aligned for this program -- which has yet another solid, Big East-title-contending team, led by veterans Jack Cooley and Scott Martin -- to finally get some ancillary spotlight run-off.

Make no mistake: Football will always be king at Notre Dame, especially now. Tonight's loudest pre game cheers came when one of the black-shirt-bedecked student held up a "Mant'i Teo for Heisman" sign. Teo himself will appear during ESPN's broadcast to visit with Dan Schulman and Dick Vitale.

It helps that the game itself should be good. Kentucky's batch of athletic young talent, in their first true road game as a team, will face not only Notre Dame's hyped students but a more polished, less talented Irish squad. It is a fascinating clash of styles.

Maybe this is just in my imagination, but it does feel like a particularly exciting sports moment for this campus -- the real, actual campus, where the talk of "brand" and "reach" is less present, the one where students go to class and then show up in the student section and root for a regular old collegiate sports team, iconography sold separately.