CAMPUS CHECK-IN: For the first time at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly faces Cincinnati

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SOUTH BEND – He’s been there long enough now to have broken on of the more sacred records in the program’s history.

In his 12th year at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has passed legend Knute Rockne for wins as a head coach with 106 after a win over Wisconsin last week at Soldier Field. He started the journey to that mark in 2010, and has made a BCS National Championship Game and two College Football Playoffs in that time.

A national championship has eluded him as it has the Irish program now for 31 years, but he figures to have a few more tries to accomplish that feat.

But before Kelly arrived in South Bend, he led Cincinnati football to a renaissance of their own, making an Orange and Sugar Bowl in 2008 then 2009, respectively. He didn’t coach in the latter bowl game since he took the job at Notre Dame, finishing his run with the Bearcats 34-6.

Now for the first time at Notre Dame, he’ll face seventh-ranked Cincinnati at home at 1:30 PM in a match-up of Top Ten teams. The Irish have vaulted back up to ninth in the rankings after dominating the fourth quarter in a 41-13 win over then No. 18 Wisconsin.

Scheduling the Bearcats is something Kelly has wanted to do in the past and is happening this year for the first time since 1900.

“I think I’ve got games schedule with Central Michigan coming up (where Kelly coached from 2004-2006) and just wanted to give those schools an opportunity if there was an opening on our schedule. Anytime we have those negotiations, the opportunity to play Notre Dame, usually those schools are wanting to do that,” said Kelly. “So when Jack (Swarbrick) and myself and Ron Powlus sit down to talk about openings, I just thought it would be, for me, an opportunity to give those schools that gave me an opportunity a chance to play Notre Dame.”

NORTHWESTERN: BACK TO THE BIG TEN

EVANSTON – It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for Northwestern to start their 2020 season, with a bad performance followed by a good one the first four weeks.

Last Saturday was one of the good ones as the Wildcats easily bested Ohio 35-6 at Ryan Field, with Evan Hull leading the way on the ground with 216 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan Hilinski took all the snaps and will get the start on Saturday when Northwestern goes back into the Big Ten to face Nebraska in a 6:30 PM game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

After losing to Illinois the opening week, the Cornhuskers have steadily improved, staying within seven of sixth-ranked Oklahoma on the road then losing to 20th-ranked Michigan State last Saturday by three points in overtime.

The defense of Nebraska caught the eye of Pat Fitzgerald as his team looks for their first Big Ten victory of the season.

“They put everybody else in the Big Ten on notice last weekend on the road with the way they played in the second half,” said Fitzgerald of the Cornhuskers’ defense against Michigan State. “It was a dominant of a performance as I’ve seen. We’ve got our hands full.”

ILLINOIS: BACK TO NON-CONFERENCE

CHAMPAIGN – Ever since that opening win over Nebraska, things have been pointing downhill for Bret Bielema in his first season at Illinois.

Losses to UTSA, Virginia, Maryland, and now Purdue last weekend have the Illini sitting 1-4 on the year and under .500 in the Big Ten conference. Close losses to the Terrapins and the Boilermakers, mainly due to miscues on offense, cost Illinois what could have been a 3-0 start to Big Ten play.

Now Bielema’s team gets to step back from conference play for a week as they face Charlotte at Memorial Stadium at 11:10 AM on Saturday. It’s their last non-conference game of the season as they’ll play Big Ten opponents the rest of the way.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS: LET THE “MAC-TION” BEGIN

DEKALB – After a win over Maine left them with a 2-2 record in non-conference play last Saturday, it’s time for Northern Illinois to begin their Mid-American Conference schedule.

They’ll do so on Saturday at 1:30 PM when they host Eastern Michigan for the first of eight MAC contests for this season. After an 11-game winning streak against the Eagles, Thomas Hammock’s team has dropped their last two straight to the school.

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