Notre Dame's Fighting Irish feel well-prepared to take on SEC team in the BCS championship.
This story originated on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.
Notre Dame features big, physical players in the trenches, a dynamic defense and an offense built around a stable of athletic running backs. That combination has led plenty to draw the conclusion Notre Dame is built like a menacing SEC team -- just like the one they'll face in the BCS Championship.
Apt or not, it's a conclusion at which defensive end Stephon Tuitt bristled.
"I wouldn’t say we’re kind of like an SEC team. We’re ourselves," Tuitt said Friday. "We go to work every day like everybody else. We showed it in the production, and we proved that."
Tuitt knows all about the SEC, hailing from Monroe, Ga, which is about a half-hour drive from the University of Georgia. Rated by Rivals.com as a five-star defensive end out of high school, Tuitt fielded offers from seven SEC schools including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn and LSU.
"It’s tough, physical players," Tuitt said. "But at the same time, we have a tough, physical line as well, and our defense is tough and physical too."
Notre Dame players recognize the challenges Alabama presents, but think they match up well against the Tide. Judging by the game’s early spread, though, few outside of Notre Dame nation agree with that premise. Alabama is favored by about 10 points by most Vegas outlets, and plenty of prognosticators don't give the Irish a chance on Jan. 7.
That's not necessarily a shot against Notre Dame, although some Irish players will use it to add fuel to the nobody-believes-in-us fire that's burned all year. To some extent, what those lines are the product of is the SEC winning six consecutive titles.
So has the SEC earned the right to be favored in every championship until the conference is dethroned?
"I don’t think so, man," safety Zeke Motta said. "Football is football. It can go either way anytime."
If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, Louis Nix offered up a different angle.
"The SEC didn’t win it, the certain teams in the game won it. I don’t care about the conference thing," the affable defensive tackle said. "The teams that won it the last six years so happened to be in the SEC. Those guys earned the title. I'm happy I'm facing one of those teams that won it twice already. I can't wait to play them, and can’t wait for January 7."
LSU and Auburn have won single titles, while Alabama and Florida have garnered two championships over the last six years. The conference has tremendous recruiting pull, and the region produces loads of talent at the prep level every year. And look no further than Bret Bielema leaving a top-four job in the Big Ten for a top-seven (at best) gig at Arkansas last week as evidence of the conference's pull.
To be the best, you have to beat the SEC.
"They have dominated, they are the preeminent conference, they've proven it on the field," coach Brian Kelly said. "Alabama has been the benchmark for college football, in three out of the last four National Championship games. We’re aware of the challenge in front of us. We welcome it. It's one that we’re putting ourselves in a position to go find out where we need to go from here."
For all of the SEC's chest-beating, Alabama was in the same boat as Notre Dame a month ago. After losing to Texas A&M, the Tide needed two teams to lose to reach the BCS Championship, no matter how hard some tried to convince themselves a one-loss Alabama team would be ranked over an undefeated Notre Dame or Kansas State squad.
For Notre Dame, going undefeated meant they met the minimum requirement for BCS Championship consideration -- of course, they could've done more to strengthen their case earlier in the season with some style points, no matter how badly the team wanted to shun that notion. Despite the strength of the conference, a loss is a loss, and the prospect of not having an SEC team in the BCS Championship led to plenty of hand-wringing.
“It really doesn’t make any difference how many game-winning shots you made in the past, the only one you gotta focus on is the one you gotta shoot right now,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
The stars aligned for Alabama when both K-State and Oregon lost on the same Saturday, and when Georgia botched a last-minute drive two weeks later. The defending champions actually get to defend their title, and could make it seven in a row from the nation’s best conference.
For Notre Dame, they get the opportunity to win the program's first title since 1988. But on a larger scale -- one the team probably doesn't care much about, but one that most everyone else around the sport does -- the Irish can stonewall the SEC's recent dominance atop college football, at least for one year.
“We’re very ecstatic about this challenge,” running back Theo Riddick said. “What else can I say, you want to beat the best. So we have that chance.”