BOSTON — There’s plenty of football history to talk about at Notre Dame, an eight-time Associated Press national champion that is once again undefeated and trying to peek its way into the NCAA title discussion.
One subject they try to stay away from: The rivalry with Boston College.
The only other Catholic school playing in the FBS, Boston College has twice spoiled Notre Dame’s unbeaten seasons and eliminated it from the national championship chase. Now, the Fighting Irish (9-0) are heading to Chestnut Hill and hoping to avoid another upset that would destroy their very outside chance at an NCAA title.
“I’m starting to hear about it,” nose guard Louis Nix III said this week as the Fighting Irish prepared for the game known locally as “The Holy War.” ‘‘A lot of people saying, ‘Blah, blah, blah. BC is going to come in,’ and we might lose. I guess because 20 years ago they beat us when we were undefeated, which I don’t see what that has to do with now.”
Notre Dame has finished first eight times since the AP poll began ranking teams in 1936. This year, the Irish are No. 4 heading into Saturday night’s game, and they would likely need two of the other unbeaten teams — Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State — to lose in order to claim a spot in the BCS title game.
Of course, the Irish would also need to win out, and that starts with a victory against a Boston College (2-7) team that is having its worst season in more than two decades. But the Eagles have always posed problems for their Catholic rivals, beating them six straight times from 2001-08.
That streak included a 2002 win over a fourth-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame team. In 1993, 17th-ranked BC beat the No. 1 Irish 41-39 on a field goal as time expired.
“I didn’t know that,” Kelly joked with reporters this week. “But I do now, and I’ll put that in the history bank of more information that I have that I won’t use.”
One Notre Dame player who is already familiar with the history is center Braxston Cave, who grew up as a Notre Dame fan in nearby Mishawaka, Ind., and is named after former Notre Dame fullback Braxston Banks. He said that when Boston College ended Notre Dame’s 8-0 start in 2002 he was so angry he threw something through a window.
“I remember watching it as a kid, the upset,” he said. “But it’s a new team, new players, and we’re going out there and get things done.”
Banks doesn’t hear much about it these days, except when fans bring it up on Twitter or when he hears the comments from people in Boston.
“There’s a lot of name-calling that goes back with Notre Dame and Boston College,” he said. “(It’s) mostly among fans. But a lot of guys, especially BC, look forward to playing Notre Dame because we’re just one of those teams on their schedule. But just like every team, we know they’re going to get up for this game.”
Kelly has said he doesn’t talk to his team about the history between the two teams, in part because he expects every team to relish the chance to beat Notre Dame.
And that’s what he’s seen so far this season.
The Irish beat Brigham Young 17-14 on Oct. 20 after Riley Nelson missed a wide-open receiver on what would have been the go-ahead touchdown. A week earlier, Notre Dame stopped Stanford on four goal-line stands in overtime to win 20-13 — even though the Cardinal appeared to have scored on fourth down, and perhaps third down as well.
The Irish beat Purdue with a last-minute field goal and topped Michigan by a touchdown. And, last week, they needed three overtimes — surviving one of them thanks to a missed 33-yard field goal — to beat Pittsburgh.
“Everybody is going to give you their best shot,” linebacker Manti Te’o said. “Because now you’re not only Notre Dame, but you’re Notre Dame with a 9-0 record. So you’re going to get everybody’s best shot and you have to prepare for it. I don’t think we’re used to it being 9-0. But we’re learning. Last week was a great learning experience for us.”
As expected, the rivalry is getting plenty of attention in Chestnut Hill, where not much has gone right so far. The Eagles are already ineligible for a bowl game for the second straight season, but a win over Notre Dame would go a long way toward making up for that.
“This game could potentially salvage the season,” BC linebacker Nick Clancy said. “I’ll never, ever forget that moment if we could knock them off. The question going around is, ‘Why not us? If they can do it in 1993, why can’t we do it in 2012?
“This is a one-game season, is what we’re looking at. This is it, man.”
The Irish have won the last three meetings between the teams after losing the previous six. Clancy, a Chicago-area native who was looked at but not heavily recruited by Notre Dame, called playing the Irish “the next best thing” to playing in a bowl.
Offensive lineman Emmett Cleary took that a step further.
“I would rather knock Notre Dame out of the national championship than go to the Toilet Bowl,” said Cleary, another Chicagoan. “People forget that we played them straight up at their place last year. So nobody’s looking at this as some monumental upset. We’re looking at this as a football team that we can beat.”
Last year, the Irish needed to sweat out an onside kick in the final minutes to hold on for a 16-14 victory.
Kelly doesn’t need a history lesson to know that.
“Boston College (is) a team that has played us very, very well,” he said. “This past year obviously at home we had to make some big stops late to win the football game.”
But when a fan asked during his radio program whether she needed to have her pacemaker recharged, Kelly told her not to worry.
“I think we’re going to take care of all the hearts this weekend,” he said. “If we get off to the kind of start we should and put some points on the board, I hope we can save everybody.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Coyne contributed to this story from South Bend, Ind.