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Notre Dame football says bring on the doubters

Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick celebrates after Notre Dame defeated Southern Californi22-13 an NCAA college football game Saturday Nov.

Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick celebrates after Notre Dame defeated Southern California 22-13 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Thirty-six days of unceasing hype — of endless loops of grainy video and bronzed coaches, of Heisman hierarchy and banner-counting — began Sunday with the official announcement that Notre Dame and Alabama, two pillars of college football drenched in tradition and lore, will meet Jan. 7 in South Florida for the BCS national championship.

But distant history doesn’t mean much to teenagers and 20-somethings.

‘‘We’re not really into all that,’’ Notre Dame tailback Theo Riddick said. ‘‘We just have to go to Miami and handle business.’’

Few outside of South Bend expect the Irish can do that, of course. Despite being undefeated and No. 1 in the country, Notre Dame is listed as anywhere from an eight- to 101/2-point underdog to 12-1 Alabama, the defending national champion.

That’s where history — the recent sort, not distant — comes into play for the Irish.

‘‘That’s cool and everything,’’ defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. ‘‘But a lot of people counted us out against Oklahoma and against USC, so it’s something we’ve been seeing all year.’’

In fact, the Irish couldn’t play the underdog card fast enough, with receiver Robby Toma tweeting, ‘‘Just keep doubting us . . . we love it’’ moments after the Southeastern Conference championship game ended Saturday.

‘‘I like being an underdog in any game; that’s good,’’ safety Zeke Motta said. ‘‘The odds are against you. You get the chance to prove people wrong. I like that.’’

The Irish didn’t sit around watching Alabama’s 32-28 slugfest victory against Georgia — ‘‘Whoever won, I was going to have enough time to do my research on them,’’ Riddick said — but most of them caught a glimpse of the ending, when Alabama’s seemingly unstoppable running game led the charge as the Crimson Tide rallied from a 21-10 third-quarter deficit.

What the Irish saw was a mirror image of themselves — a dynamic duo of running backs in Eddie Lacy and T.J.
Yeldon running behind a strong offensive line and a big, stout, physical defensive front. No surprise there, considering coach Brian Kelly built this Notre Dame team with the SEC blueprint, emulating the conference that has had a stranglehold on the
national title for six seasons.

‘‘For us to move Notre Dame back into national pro-
minence, we had to begin with defense,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘You look to the SEC, and the teams that were playing for national championships — Alabama leading that charge — were built on defense.’’

Alabama coach Nick
Saban said the Irish have ‘‘maybe the best front seven in the country.’’ But Lewis-Moore bristled at the idea that the Irish play an SEC brand of football.

‘‘We play Notre Dame
defense,’’ he said.

Will it be enough to end the SEC’s run of dominance? Both teams will have to wait five full weeks to find out. Five weeks of waiting, conditioning, film study and, yes, five weeks of hype the likes of which college football might never have seen.

At the least the older guys involved get that part, though both coaches couched their reverence by saying that past isn’t prologue and that the only date in history that matters is Jan. 7, 2013.

‘‘Iconic,’’ Kelly said of the matchup. ‘‘Two great programs with great tradition. I mean, how can you not think about the houndstooth hat of coach [Bear] Bryant and then coach [Gene] Stallings? And then you think of Ara [Parseghian] and Lou [Holtz]. The tradition — it’s college football. It’s what it’s supposed to be.’’



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