SOUTH BEND, Ind. » Braxston Cave is named after the fullback from Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship team. He’s a lifelong fan of the school, growing up not far from campus, and signed with the team after it posted a school-worst 3-9 record in 2007, convinced his class would help bring the storied program back to glory.
"We knew with the group we had that we could do something special," Cave said. "There’s six of us left now and it’s finally coming together."
The fifth-year senior center has been through a lot during a mediocre first four seasons, a time in which the Irish went a combined 29-22 and saw coach Charlie Weis get fired. But Cave heads into today’s game against Wake Forest (5-5) knowing the third-ranked Irish (10-0) are in the running for a national title this late in a season for the first time in nearly two decades. Notre Dame hasn’t won it all since Braxston Banks was part of the championship squad led by coach Lou Holtz 24 years ago.
"Every guy knows what’s at stake," Cave said. "We just have to come out and execute and do what we’ve been doing all year."
The Irish have been dominant on the road this season, but have struggled at times at home. They needed overtime to beat Stanford, triple-overtime to beat Pittsburgh and have won their other three home games by a combined 13 points.
The problems are obvious: Notre Dame has committed 10 of its 13 turnovers and 33 of its 56 penalties at home, and averages 78 fewer rushing yards at home while allowing an average of 50 more yards on the ground.
Coach Brian Kelly is reminding his team not to get caught up in the moment of senior day.
"In other words, ‘Yes, it is your last home game, but we’ve got a lot in front of us. What you’ll remember most is whether you win the game, not that it was your last home game. So make sure that you keep the distractions to a minimum,’ " he said.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, the Punahou alum, said one of the main reasons he returned for his senior season instead of turning pro was so that he and his parents could share in the joy of senior day.
"We’ve got to rise together and make sure we take care of business at the end of the day. I’ve experienced senior days where the team has lost, and it doesn’t feel so special after that," he said.