Kelly, ND look for lift at MSU

It's easy to imagine Brian Kelly on the home sideline during that fateful September night two years ago in East Lansing, Mich.

Instead, the Notre Dame coach could offer up only a bemused smile after Mark Dantonio's fake field goal call powered Michigan State to a shocking overtime win over the Irish.

The normally reserved Dantonio, who took the MSU job before the 2007 season, recovered from a heart attack later that night to lead the Spartans to consecutive 11-win campaigns in the two years since. The normally fast-talking Kelly, who was a finalist for the MSU job but ended up replacing Dantonio at Cincinnati, is hoping that Year 3 is the time he pushes the Irish to the next level and into a BCS bowl game.

The pair of 2-0 squads will renew their rivalry Saturday night in East Lansing, MSU the Big Ten front-runner and Notre Dame looking to build off consecutive 8-5 campaigns.

Nineteen years removed from its last double-digit, major-bowl winning season -- and 24 years removed from their last national title -- Notre Dame has again faced questions about whether it can reach back to its glory days without compromising itself in this new age of college athletics.

Kelly isn't buying that.

"Certainly I'm here for one reason, and that's to graduate our kids and win a national championship," Kelly said. "You would have a hard time moving me off that spot. What others think and perceive, that's up to them to think. But I believe that we have all of the things in place for us here to win a national championship and we believe we are building our program toward that end."

A 34-6 record at Cincinnati, a background in politics and, well, an Irish-Catholic heritage painted Kelly, a Massachusetts native, as the ideal leader to restore order near Touchdown Jesus.

Strong quarterback play was the hallmark of Kelly's previous teams, which were two-time Divsion II national champions (Grand Valley State), Mid-American Conference champions (Central Michigan) and two-time Big East champions (Cincinnati).

Notre Dame has presented different challenges, from the off-field tragedies that marked Kelly's first year to inconsistent quarterback play throughout.

Last season a number of players publicly voiced their displeasure after Kelly made a distinction between the players he recruited and those of predecessor Charlie Weis. Contrast that with Kelly's debut at Cincinnati, which he led to a 2006 International Bowl win upon his arrival.

Still, Kelly said that working his dream job has eliminated the what-ifs this week as he prepares for the Spartans.

"That was so long ago for me," Kelly said. "My brain is full of so many different things now. I think if I'm on a golf course in Michigan and making the turn and having a hot dog, maybe I would think about it. But other than that, I'm focused on what I'm doing right here."

Kelly has a new quarterback, Everett Golson, whom he removed in favor of veteran Tommy Rees during the most crucial moment of last week's win over Purdue.

He said he hasn't watched MSU's fake field goal this week while preparing for the first of three road contests against top-10 teams, likely all at night.

He will walk into Spartan Stadium on Saturday for the first game of a six-game stretch in which his Irish face five ranked teams, the lone outsider a rivalry game against Miami in Chicago.

And, just maybe, he can have the same fortuitous twist that propelled Dantonio and his team in their last meeting there.

"It was a quick decision we had to make," Dantonio said of the gutsy fake field goal try. "I was prepared to make that decision all week long if that situation came into fold."

"It was all about the way things went," he added. "Luckily it worked out."