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No. 9 Notre Dame’s Kelly has 2-9 road mark vs top 20 teams

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Hopes for a place in a top bowl or even a (long) shot at the College Football Playoff provide No. 9 Notre Dame plenty to play for in its game Saturday at No. 20 Stanford.

But maybe a more pressing objective for Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly is to do something he hasn’t done in more than five years: Beat a top 20 team on the road in the regular season.

The 41-8 loss at then-No. 7 Miami marked the eighth straight loss in such games, and during his eight seasons at Notre Dame, Kelly is only 2-9 against the AP top 20 on the road.

“When you go on the road and you’re playing top-20 teams, they’re difficult competition,” Kelly said this week as his team prepared for the Cardinal. “You’re probably not going to be 9-2.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly walks on the field before an NCAA college football game against Miami in Miami Gardens, Fla. The game between No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 20 Stanford may not carry the pomp and circumstances of some previous meetings, but it does give Irish coach Brian Kelly his latest chance to complete an elusive mission: beat a ranked team on the road. | Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Both of Kelly’s top-20 road wins came in 2012 during the undefeated regular season that ended with a loss to Alabama in the national championship game. The first came at No. 10 Michigan State and the second was at No. 8 Oklahoma when No. 5 Notre Dame won as a 13-point underdog against a Sooners team that had won 79 of its previous 83 home games.

“Yeah, playing top-20 teams on the road, it’s hard to beat top-20 teams on the road,” Kelly said. “I don’t keep track of those records but I’m sure there’s been some really good games in that mix of 2-9.”

There have been some near-misses and a couple classics during the road stretch — see the 31-27 loss to No. 2 Florida State in 2014 and the 24-22 defeat at No. 1 Clemson in 2015 — but there have also been plenty of clunkers. Kelly’s nine losses in these games have come by an average of 12.7 points per and five are by double digits.

Fifth-year senior offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey, who has lost all eight of his road tries against top-20 teams, was asked if there is a common diagnosis during the losing streak. He said nothing specifically comes to mind.

“I don’t think it’s like a big kind of back to the drawing board, like clean-house kind of deal,” McGlinchey said. “We just need to clean up a couple of small details that didn’t allow us to play our best.”

Ironically, Kelly will face one of the best in the business this weekend when it comes to beating ranked teams anywhere and everywhere in Stanford coach David Shaw.

In his seven years as a head coach, all at Stanford, Shaw is 22-12 (.647) against Top 25 teams, which is third in career winning percentage among active coaches behind only Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Nick Saban at Alabama. Shaw enters this weekend 4-2 against Notre Dame and Kelly, with the last five games between the two coaches decided by seven points or fewer.

“Hotly contested games,” Shaw said. “They have been physical and unbelievably respectful on both sides.”

Like Notre Dame (9-2, No. 8 CFP), Stanford still has much to play for — a New Year’s Six bowl game topping the list. The Cardinal (8-3, No. 22 CFP) can also earn a Pac-12 championship game berth against USC if Washington beats Washington State on Saturday night, a game that shares the same start time with Notre Dame and Stanford.

“I’m sure there will be an announcement or two during the game,” Shaw said of any scoreboard watching. “Still, what’s important for us is what’s happening on our field. Hopefully that game goes the way we want it to but that’s not going to affect the way we play Notre Dame.”