SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Three things can happen when Notre Dame plays Purdue Saturday night in West Lafayette, Ind.
One, the Irish can blow the Boilermakers out, and the general perception will be indifference; it was what Notre Dame was supposed to do.
Two, the Irish can win a close game, and people will wonder why ND didn't beat the Boilers by more.
Or three, the Boilermakers can upset the Irish, and people will really wonder what's wrong.
Sure, the dyed-in-the-wool Irish fan will take a big ND win and think that everything is right in the world. But in reality, because of what happened last week, and last year, there are questions.
Brian Kelly has been quick to point to the offense as a big contributing factor in the 41-30 loss to Michigan, and he's right. Points were left on the field.
But the bigger contributing factor was the shortcomings of the defense, which had a lot of parts back from last year but still allowed 41 points last weekend.
Granted, the offense contributed to the Michigan total when a Tommy Rees interception led to a Michigan touchdown, but—and this is one of those questions that goes simply on feel—does anyone think that last year's defense would have stiffened and bailed out the offense?
Notre Dame enters Saturday night's nationally televised game a three-touchdown favorite (per Bovada), and there's a reason.
Brian Kelly's team has more talent, and it is in the fourth year of a system. Purdue, on the other hand, enters with an identical record (1-1) as Notre Dame, but the loss was a shellacking at the hands of Cincinnati and the win an underwhelming victory over Indiana State at home. The Boilermakers are also in the infant stages of first-year coach Darrell Hazell's system, and there are questions at quarterback.
That's what makes Saturday's winnable game a no-win. Even without their best performance, Notre Dame should be able to handily beat the Boilermakers.
This is about winning a game, and making progress.
Does quarterback Tommy Rees play mistake-free? Does star defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who did not register a tackle against Michigan, dominate like he's capable of doing? Does one of the backs—Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel or one of the freshmen—make Kelly's decision for him and force the coach to give him 20 carries?
A win will be a nice recovery for Notre Dame, but it's the potential wins within the win, the types of victories in which the Irish are measured against themselves, that will help determine if this team is BCS-worthy or not.