CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Oddsmakers favor Oklahoma; history favors Notre Dame

The undefeated Irish travel to Norman for their first true road test when they face the one-loss Sooners on Saturday. Oklahoma is favored by almost two touchdowns, but Notre Dame leads the series, 8-1.

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It is a matchup dripping in tradition, pitting a team from the industrial Midwest against a wind-swept prairie powerhouse.

One is the most most-victorious program in college history, instantly identifiable by its helmets. The other is rooted in redness and the remnants of an unstoppable option attack.

Enough, though, about Michigan playing football at Nebraska for the first time since 1911.

Most weekends that kind of pairing would prompt an ESPN manpower movement called "Occupy Lincoln."

Michigan won its 900th game last week, more than any school on pigskin record. This week the school is … playing when and on what channel?

Unfortunately, two-loss Michigan and negligibly noticeable Nebraska picked the wrong day to share the Gregorian calendar with Notre Dame at Oklahoma.

There is nothing more intoxicating, this late, than the smell of top-10 Notre Dame in the air.

The Fighting Irish might be everything you think: relatively untested, overrated and over-publicized.

Guess what: the day of reckoning is upon us. Playing at Oklahoma on Saturday marks Notre Dame's most important stage appearance in a decade.

The Irish didn't handle it well in 2002, when they started 8-0 after a huge win at Florida State and then decided it would be a good idea to break out green jerseys for Boston College.

Notre Dame lost three of its last five and first-year coach Tyrone Willingham never survived to be a fourth-year coach.

The truth is Notre Dame, as it stands, cannot yet be anointed or even trusted. The Irish are vastly improved under third-year Coach Brian Kelly but have been living on defense and close calls. Notre Dame has won four games by seven points or fewer and had to rally from deficits to win its last two games.

It hasn't ventured outside the greater Chicago area since Sept. 15.

"We haven't really played in a hostile environment since Michigan State," star linebacker Manti Te'o said of Notre Dame's last true "road" test.

Winning at Oklahoma would not just be a game changer — it would be a program changer.

This is because most rational people don't think Notre Dame can pull it off. Notre Dame is 7-0 and ranked No. 5, yet oddsmakers favor one-loss Oklahoma by almost two touchdowns.

Oklahoma is 79-4 at home under Coach Bob Stoops and never mind that one of those losses was this year to Kansas State. The Sooners, since that defeat, have destroyed Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas.

Quarterback Landry Jones, who dropped out of Heisman Trophy contention after the Kansas State debacle, has recovered in his last three games to complete 62.3% of his passes for 888 yards and seven touchdowns.

"I'm a lot different now," Jones said.

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