One of the nation's elite quarterbacks has led Stanford to three consecutive blowout victories, and the Cardinal will have extra motivation to continue their surge Saturday in South Bend.
It has been 18 years since Stanford's last win at Notre Dame and even longer since its most recent 4-0 start, but Andrew Luck and the No. 16 Cardinal will look to end both droughts while sending the Fighting Irish to a third consecutive defeat.
Luck has been earning some Heisman Trophy buzz by throwing 10 touchdown passes without an interception to spark Stanford's early rise, which featured a 68-24 win over Wake Forest last Saturday night.
The sophomore went 17 for 23 for 207 yards and four touchdowns, adding a 52-yard TD run in what coach Jim Harbaugh called a "flawless" performance as the Cardinal (3-0) posted their highest point total since 1968.
"We're coming along nicely," Luck said. "But I don't think anybody is satisfied. This program hasn't been on a high too long. Guys have been around here when it's not been on a high, me included. We know that tides can change like that."
A glance at Stanford's recent history should be humbling enough. No Cardinal team has begun a season with four wins since 1986, and Stanford's ranking is the school's highest at this point in a season since 1972.
The Cardinal have also struggled against Notre Dame, which had won seven straight in the series before a 45-38 loss at Palo Alto on Nov. 28. In order to win back-to-back meetings with the Irish for the first time in school history, Stanford must snap a seven-game losing streak in South Bend that dates to 1992.
With an offense that ranks third nationally with 51.7 points per game, the Cardinal may be well equipped. They rolled up 303 yards on 38 carries against Wake Forest, using eight rushers after losing Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart to graduation last year.
"That Stanford team is very special," Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe said. "It's a good football team, well coached. ... They have such a strong running game and a special quarterback who makes all the throws."
Stanford's big point totals have overshadowed the team's stingy defense, which shut out UCLA in its lone road game and has allowed an FBS-low 90.0 passing yards per game.
Notre Dame had no problem throwing against the Cardinal last year, with Jimmy Clausen racking up 340 yards and five touchdowns. Stanford, though, overcame a late deficit to deny the Irish a winning season and end the tenure of coach Charlie Weis.
It hasn't taken new coach Brian Kelly long to encounter more adversity in the form of consecutive last-minute losses to Michigan and Michigan State.
After the Wolverines scored with 27 seconds left to earn a 28-24 win at Notre Dame on Sept. 11, the Spartans used a fake field goal in overtime to claim a 34-31 win over the Irish (1-2) last Saturday.
"Guys are upset, obviously," quarterback Dayne Crist said. "It's a tough loss and guys are hurt by that, but we'll give it time to get out of our systems."
Narrow defeats are nothing new for Notre Dame, which has dropped six of seven with each loss coming by seven points or fewer.
While Crist has been a bright spot after replacing Clausen, throwing for 369 yards and four touchdowns against Michigan State, the Irish have struggled defensively, allowing 443.7 yards per game to rank 102nd nationally.
That has increased the pressure on Kelly. The coach led Cincinnati to the Sugar Bowl last year but left in hopes of resurrecting the storied Notre Dame program, which is 17-23 since the start of the 2007 season.
"I don't think that you have any head coaching position, whether it's Notre Dame or anywhere else, and sit around and worrying about what those people think," Kelly said. "You're going to work every day, trying to get your football team to be the best they can be."
Top 25 Overview
It's certain that Luck will be on Stanford's side when the Cardinal visit Notre Dame. Stanford QB Andrew Luck will look to give the Cardinal their first win in South Bend since 1992 and their first 4-0 start since 1986. The Fighting Irish have never lost two straight to Stanford.