SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The thick, wooden front door of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex swung open and a loud thud could be heard on the other side.
“My bad, man,” I said, my left hand still on the door handle.
“It's OK. It's OK,” said Jimmy Clausen, former Notre Dame quarterback and now Carolina Panthers backup, standing outside the door wearing a gray snow cap and accompanied by a young lady.
Yes, I almost knocked out Jimmy Clausen. Well, probably not. He didn't look hurt. The door probably just hit his shoe or leg. I didn't know he was there. He's a swift ninja, that Jimmy.
The most surprising part wasn't running into Clausen, who's in town for Saturday's Stanford-Notre Dame matchup. It's that Clausen had to wait outside the athletic complex before he was granted access. Waited a good minute after I walked outside. A guard, an older man with an '80s-style Irish jacket, eventually let Clausen in to visit somebody.
This is the reality of Notre Dame. Save maybe Brian Kelly and a few others, nobody walks in and acts like they own the place. Everything's pristine.
My first thought upon walking around campus was, "I wish I could plop a few thousand party-lovin' SEC fans here, just as an experiment." After all, there was nothing rowdy about Friday's campus scene, even as thousands of fans waited for a pep rally to start in the Joyce Center adjacent to the stadium. Everyone is respectful.
If Alabama is Southern-fried football, this was a petite sirloin and a glass of cabernet.
But like with any cabernet, you can get a nice buzz. The campus had that on Friday as the streets and sidewalks were packed with prideful visitors. There was a sense of, "Oh yeah, we matter again."
It's been more than 2,100 days since Notre Dame was ranked higher than its current No. 7 spot.
The only thing that would make this scene better is if Charlie Weis were selling student newspapers from outside Joyce Center.
On to the game …
Giving up 48 points to Arizona last week is considered an aberration for Stanford, which has an instinctive front seven that mixes up blitz packages well. But don't expect Notre Dame to drop back in the pocket all day. The running game is working, a byproduct of Kelly's decision to build the Irish from the line of scrimmage, especially on defense.
“We're stronger physically, across the board,” Kelly said last week when addressing back-to-back losses to the Cardinal.
The Irish's passing attack could hinge on how much Stanford doubles tight end Tyler Eifert. Keep two on him, and the Irish will pound on the ground. How these two units match up will be crucial.
Good thing for Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes, failing to score against Notre Dame's stingy defense isn't so bad. The Irish haven't trailed all year.
Notre Dame's last three opponents -– Michigan State, Michigan, Miami -– are all respectable programs, all held to six points or less. Still, this is a great chance for the erratic Nunes (54.1 completion percentage) to break up Notre Dame's rhythm by taking a few shots downfield.
This will be tight until the fourth, when the Irish pull away 17-10.