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Grind taking toll on Notre Dame, but players focused on goal

“It’s late year this is when teams peak” Irish running back Theo Riddick said danger 2-7 BostCollege presents 9-0 Notre

“It’s late in the year, and this is when teams peak,” Irish running back Theo Riddick said of the danger 2-7 Boston College presents to 9-0 Notre Dame. | Michael Conroy~AP

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Updated: December 11, 2012 6:11AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Eleven weeks into a season, every football player is going to be a bit worn out, physically and emotionally.

“There’s no team in the country that isn’t going to say Week 11 practices are a grind,” Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin said.

But when you’re 9-0, ranked No. 4 in the nation and trying to play your way into the national-championship game, it’s a little easier to get up for those Tuesday and Wednesday practices.

After all, at this point last season, Notre Dame was 6-3 and trying to play its way into a half-decent bowl. Physically, it’s just as hard. Emotionally, it’s a heck of a lot easier. Anticipation and excitement far outweigh pressure and nerves.

“I’ve never been 9-0,” nose guard Louis Nix III said. “I feel like you’re more loose and you have more to look forward to. If you’re a 5-4 team, you get upset. You don’t want to lose these games. Undefeated, you have more to look forward to. You want to be 10-0, 11-0, 12-0. You don’t [get excited] being 6-4. I want to be an undefeated team. That’s what I came here to do — win games.”

A near-debacle against Pittsburgh last week — the Irish rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 29-26 in triple overtime — has kept the team on its toes as it prepares to play 2-7 Boston College on Saturday.

“What we do out there on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday is what’s going to beat Boston College,” Martin said. “There’s energy [in practice]. ‘Teach me something new.’ The coaches are happy, the players are happy. When you’re on the losing side, when you’ve lost a couple in a row, you’re kind of down at practice and everyone’s getting on each other. It’s different. Luckily this year, we haven’t experienced a loss yet. We’re going to try not to.”

While the Eagles have just one win against an FBS team this year — they beat Maryland 20-17 two weeks ago — they have a history of ruining Notre Dame seasons. In 1993 and 2002, they ended a perfect Irish season in ­November.

But Notre Dame isn’t sweating history.

“ ’02, ’93, doesn’t really matter to me,” shrugged linebacker Manti Te’o.

Boston College isn’t a total pushover, despite its record. Quarterback Chase Rettig can put up some big numbers, and receiver Alex Amidon is fifth in the nation with 1,073 receiving yards.

“Any team at this point is dangerous,” Irish tailback Theo Riddick said. “It’s late in the year, and this is when teams peak as a unit.”

Notre Dame is more concerned with its own play. After the Pitt game, the Irish once again insisted there would be no more letdowns. Nor will the grind of a long season full of tense, physical, down-to-the-wire battles soften them up.

“It takes its toll,” Te’o said. “Your body starts to feel it, your mind. Emotionally, you start to feel a little drained. But when you line up against somebody else and the lights are on, you don’t feel a thing.”

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