Notre Dame players won't admit to cheering for either side in Saturday's SEC Championship, as well they shouldn't. There won't be any remarks about "old man football" or Alabama's loss to Texas A&M. That's the product of a team knowing it won't do itself any favors by lending its BCS Championship opponent any added motivation, so let the platitudes fly.
"No, not really," linebacker Manti Te'o said when asked if he had any rooting interest in Saturday's game. "Good luck to both teams and just excited to see who we play."
The best bet for Notre Dame's Jan. 7 opponent is Alabama, which will face Georgia as an eight-point favorite. Despite its one loss, there are plenty around the country who consider Alabama college football's best team and expect Nick Saban & Co. to roll Georgia and then Notre Dame in the BCS Championship.
Online betting site Bovada.com pegged Alabama as a 9 12-point favorite over Notre Dame if the two teams meet in the BCS Championship. If it's Georgia, Notre Dame would be three-point underdogs. Make no mistake: A perfect record isn't enough for the odds to not be stacked against the Irish.
"Were all going to strap up our pads the same way, were all going to strap our chinstraps the same way," Te'o said, dismissing Notre Dame's already-anointed underdog status. "We understand how dominant the SEC has been in the past. But its definitely and opportunity that were looking forward to, and were going to prepare the same way that weve been preparing all week and all year."
Heading into the BCS Championship as underdogs is sure to rankle those who are quick to point out the SEC's shortcomings. But the SEC has earned the right to be favored over whoever they play in the BCS Championship by virtue of winning the last six.
Alabama has won two of the last three titles, and if they reach this year's game 17 of their players would experience their third BCS Championship in four years. While Notre Dame players talked about learning what it takes to be undefeated, Alabama players know what it takes to win a championship.
Georgia doesn't have that same track record of success in the last four years, nor do they look as strong as Alabama on paper. While the Tide went into Death Valley and beat LSU, Georgia's only big win came in a sloppy neutral field win over Florida. That's not to totally discount Georgia's win -- it was Florida's only loss of the season -- but they were pasted by South Carolina in Columbia and feasted on blowouts against the dregs of the SEC and a weak non-conference slate.
Statistically, Georgia is allowing 163 rushing yards per game, good for 69th among FBS teams. They're great against the pass (No. 9 nationally) but that's not Notre Dame's strength on offense.
Even Georgia's passing advantage against Notre Dame's secondary can be mitigated by the combined seven throwing touchdowns allowed by the Irish defense -- and that's with facing a handful of top-40 passing offenses.
Alabama, on the other hand, has the same footprint of Notre Dame. Their air attack isn't great (both are No. 77 in passing yards per game) but doesn't turn the ball over, allowing a solid running game to carry the offensive load. And those running backs generally help score enough points to net victories built on defensive success.
What'll be interesting to watch Saturday is Alabama's ability to slow Aaron Murray and Georgia's passing game. Johnny Manziel's success in Tuscaloosa led to Texas A&M's mid-November upset, although the Tide did successfully shut down Tennessee's potent air attack in Knoxville to balance that out. Perhaps we'll figure out if Alabama's secondary can be exploited by quarterbacks who don't play like they've set their video game difficulty level to rookie on Saturday.
Notre Dame players and coaches are in an enviable position Saturday evening, able to kick back and do some casual scouting while taking in a game that'll decide who they play in a little over a month. The Irish have already earned their trip to Miami, and tomorrow we'll find out of Alabama or Georgia will be joining them.
"Ill enjoy it as a fan and as a future opponent," Te'o said. "Just watching them, how they work and trying to get tendencies in that game. My main thing is finding out who were going to play and then getting a sneak peek of what to look forward to."