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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The rankings say Notre Dame is No. 1 going into the BCS championship against Alabama. Plenty of folks aren't buying it, starting with the oddsmakers who currently have the Crimson Tide as about a touchdown favorite for the Jan. 7 meeting in Miami between two of college football's proudest programs.
The Fighting Irish aren't sweating the point spread. In fact, it's pretty much business as usual for Notre Dame, which has a chance to become the first team since 1984 to start the season unranked and end it as national champions.
"Everybody thought everybody was better than us," defensive tackle Louis Nix III said Monday. "Oklahoma was better than us. USC was better than us.
"We get it. We know how everyone thinks. We're just Notre Dame. Overrated Notre Dame. No one gives us credit for anything. Just the luck of the Irish, I guess."
History suggests that being the underdog in the BCS title game hasn't been a bad thing. Of the 14 BCS championship games played since the system was implemented in 1998, seven have been won by the underdog.
Alabama was a slight underdog last year after losing to LSU in the regular season, and then shut out the Tigers with the national title on the line.
In the 2005 championship game between Texas and Southern California, Vince Young and the Longhorns felt as if they were being talked about as nothing more than a speed bump on the road to USC's coronation as one of the greatest teams in college football history. Plus, Young was still seething over coming in second to USC's Reggie Bush in the Heisman Trophy voting.
The result: Texas 41, USC 38, and a performance for the ages by Young.
The following season, Ohio State reached the national championship game with a perfect record, No. 1 ranking and a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Troy Smith. Florida was the Buckeyes opponent and the question was: Did the Gators even belong in game?
Urban Meyer, the Gators' coach, made sure his players got that message. Even if it meant stretching the truth a bit. After a month of being told that nobody thought they had a chance to beat Ohio State, the Gators routed the Buckeyes 41-14 to start the Southeastern Conference's run of six straight BCS championships.
It's impossible to quantify what, if any, effect being the underdog has actually had on any of those "upsets." Any team that gets to a championship game must be good in the first place.
Whether Notre Dame can or will use the slights — real or perceived — as motivation remains to be seen.
"I've used the technique before during my time as a head coach," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said about playing the underdog card. "I don't know that that is pertinent because it's a one-game deal. It's all or nothing.
"Both teams have different dynamics to deal with because of the long layoff. Preparation is more important than any kind of fire and brimstone speech that I can bring to them."
Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said the coaches don't even need to bring it up. The Fighting Irish have played all season like a team with something to prove.
"I think it's a little bit part of our kids' DNA now," he said. "We don't have to use it as much as maybe early in the year when we went on the road to Michigan State and they were ranked eighth and nobody was thinking we were very good. I think we've kind of just built it into who we are. Everybody likes telling us what we're not good at — which is fine by us. One of our strengths is knowing what we're not very good at. We try to play to our strengths and play away from our weaknesses."
It's a style that has led to more than a few close calls on the way to Miami.
Notre Dame beat Purdue and BYU by three points each. The Irish needed three overtimes to beat Pittsburgh by a field goal and went to overtime against Stanford, too. In both the Pitt and Stanford games, Notre Dame caught a few breaks. A missed field goal here, a questionable call by the officials there.
Meanwhile, except for its upset loss to Texas A&M, Alabama has rarely been challenged on its way to a third BCS title game appearance in the past four seasons.
The Tide is outscoring its opponents by an average of 28 points per game. Notre Dame's average margin of victory is 16 points per game, as the Irish have leaned on Heisman Trophy finalists Manti Te'o and a stellar defense while they developed first-year starting quarterback Everett Golson.
"I understand why people say Alabama's going to win," said Nix, the 325-pound anchor of Notre Dame's defensive front. "Great offensive line. Good quarterback. Great guys on the edge. They've been in the national championship twice in the last three years. I would probably pick Alabama, too.
"At the end of the day it's all about what's on the scoreboard."
Christopher Walsh covers Alabama football for BamaOnline, 247Sports, and is the author of 18 books.
ND has a very similar MO to our 2008 team (something to prove/discipline/hardnosed football/decent talent) which worked well for us until we ran into a team with superior, mature talent who also possessed many of the same intangibles that we did.
Hope we're focused and ready to kick ass on January 7th.
The ramp up to #15 starts TODAY!
RTR, boys. Time to bring another home!
1960 Les Paul
You mean the most over hyped program in America isn't given the "credit" they deserve? Is that what they mean by underdog?
I think that the comparison to the '08 is a great one. I don't know if they're ready for big boy football, but anything can happen in one game. If WE"RE ready, I like our chances. We have to be as hungry as they are. If we want it more, we'll win it.
Does the underdog card get marginalized when their players are talking to the media about everyone thinking they are an underdog and they don't buy it?
In any event, and most importantly, I doubt our players and coaches perceive them as underdogs or buy into all of that stuff.
One would hope not. Georgia was an 8 point underdog to Bama in the SEC Championship game and they damn near beat us.
I hear ya. fortunately, I don't think our team underestimated georgia or were caught off guard by them. That was just a damn tough, hardnosed, hard fought game from the word go.
No doubt about it. I knew we would get Georgia's best shot and we did. It was one of the most intense, physical games I've ever watched. Bama also made quite a few mistakes in that game that could have very easily caused us to lose. We didn't play our best football but still ended up winning the game. It's hard for me to see us making the same mistakes against Notre Dame.
They may have underdog in their DNA, but they'll still add curb-stomped to their BCS resume' come Jan7. I know they have a good defense, especially front 7. But I suspect their depth will be brought into question by late in the 3rd quarter. Bama 31-13! RTR!!!
I'll look forward to ND repeating (after giving us #15) the NC game next year with the attitude "will not be denied" only to be denied by a team that doesn't get on the wrong side of a psychological battle in big games. And then bring home #16.
The one stat ND should take note of..
Alabama is 10-1 under Nick Saban when the Tide has more than 2 consecutive weeks to prepare. That includes 6 wins over top 10 teams.
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I also think the down time to rest and recover from injuries helps a ton. Alabama went through a meat grinder of a schedule in the SEC where we didn't have a bye week since the first week of October. Bama was a beat up, tired football team against Georgia.
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