Earlier this week, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said history will have "no effect" on the 2012 Irish squad. That was specifically in reference to the 2002 season, when Notre Dame jumped out to an 8-0 start, beating No. 7 Michigan and No. 11 Florida State before losing to Boston College in South Bend to squash their title hopes in week 10.
The circumstances of Notre Dame's game this weekend are similar to what the 2002 Irish were facing heading into their contest with Boston College. Both teams were coming off a huge road win (@ Florida State, @ Oklahoma), and although Boston College was better in 2002 than Pittsburgh is in 2012, a loss to Pittsburgh would register as just as big of a letdown for the Irish.
Notre Dame had a good defense in 2002, averaging 16.7 points allowed per game -- good for ninth in the nation. But Carlyle Holliday, Ryan Grant and Arnaz Battle only managed to pace Notre Dame to 22.3 points per game, good for No. 92 in Division I.
That's where this year's Notre Dame squad separates itself from the 2002 team. With a stable of dynamic running backs and a quarterback who's growing every week, Notre Dame's offense is far better than it was a decade ago.
In 2002, Notre Dame's win over Michigan vaulted the Irish from No. 20 to No. 12 in the AP poll, serving as the biggest win of the year until Notre Dame beat FSU in Tallahassee. Grant rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns, while Shane Walton's interception of John Navarre sealed the win for the Irish in the third game of the season.
You can catch all the nostalgia from the 2002 Notre Dame-Michigan game tonight at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.