What we learned: Underdog status already motivates Irish

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What we learned: Underdog status already motivates Irish

Out of Saturday's heart-stopping SEC Championship emerged Alabama, and Notre Dame's opponent in next month's BCS Championship is set.

The betting lines, which had pegged Alabama as a 10-point favorite over Notre Dame in the BCS Championship, are soon to follow with the Irish remaining heavy underdogs. That may rankle some, but fact is, the SEC has earned the right to be favored every time they have a participating team in the BCS Championship. Winning six in a row has earned that trust.

Notre Dame players, though, aren't interested in poking holes in the SEC's dominance. While most took to twitter to tweet things like "Bama it is" or "time to get to work," Robby Toma got a head start on drawing motivation from those who think the Tide will roll on Jan. 7:

Just keep doubting us...we love it

Robby Toma (@RobJob293) December 2, 2012
Notre Dame has played a team as physical as Alabama this year, that being Stanford. They haven't played anyone who combines that physicality with the kind of across-the-board speed Alabama possesses, not to mention a coach with the tactical intelligence of Nick Saban.

Alabama had considerable success on the ground against Georgia, with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon both rushing for more than 150 yards and accounting for three touchdowns. But that was against a rushing defense that entered the game ranked 69th in among FBS teams. Notre Dame ranks fifth.

A.J. McCarron threw the game-winning touchdown to Amari Cooper, a freshman who caught eight passes for 127 yards. But Alabama's passing game was pretty much Cooper and no one else, with McCarron completing only five passes to other receivers. If you're looking ahead to matchups, Bennett Jackson's ability to mute Cooper's production could be key in silencing Alabama's passing game.

Defensively, Alabama had a tough time stopping Georgia running back Todd Gurley -- although the way he ran Saturday, few defenses could've had success. Aaron Murray completed 18 of 33 passes for 267 yards and exposed Alabama's secondary on a few occasions, but was hardly spectacular.

It's hard to draw too many conclusions from one game, though, given there's more than five full weeks until kickoff in Florida. That's plenty of time for tweaks, adjustments and additions to a game plan.

That's also plenty of time for Notre Dame-Alabama to be dissected in every way possible, and plenty of time for those analyses to conclude that the Irish don't have a chance. But once the first second ticks off the clock on Jan. 7, none of that will matter.

"Were all going to strap up our pads the same way, were all going to strap our chinstraps the same way," Manti Te'o said this week. "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."

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bears beat 49ers; Blackhawks' offense struggles in loss to Jets

Here are some of the top stories from Sunday in Chicago sports:

Five Things to Watch: Bulls back in action against Trail Blazers

Tune in tonight for Chicago Bulls Charities Night

Blackhawks score late but can't get past Jets

Bears offense finds groove in win over 49ers

Winter meetings preview: Why teams will find trying to copy a ‘Cubs Way’ rebuild is easier said than done

White Sox revamp would mean fewer 'stopgaps' and 'half-measures'

Significance of Bears win over 49ers lies beyond records and score

Five Things from Blackhawks-Jets: Offense still anemic

Bears' Matt Barkley 'showing the world' he can be a starting QB in the NFL

Lars Johansson excited for Blackhawks call-up

Bulls pass out Christmas gifts to Chicago youth on Sunday

Bulls pass out Christmas gifts to Chicago youth on Sunday

It was hard to tell who was more excited Sunday afternoon: the Bulls players or the 400 kids who stopped by the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry as the team passed out Christmas gifts for kids who reside in the Chicago family housing development.

Robin Lopez was carrying about Benny the Bull, much to the surprise and delight of many kids who were in attendance, while Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo took photos and passed out gifts to every child.

Rondo established roots in Chicago long before becoming a Bull, but has become entrenched in the months since signing with the franchise, being a part of the 17th annual holiday party.

“It’s definitely an honor. An honor to be a Bull,” Rondo said. “Since Day 1 when I got here I thought they were the best organization as far as giving back to the community, and it shows. They do it without hesitation.

“Very welcoming. The people have been great. The kids have been here since Day 1 supporting us as well. It’s very exciting.”

Bulls volunteers served lunch provided by Papa John’s, Coca-Cola and Edy’s Ice Cream, as the holiday party is one of the 30 events the Bulls are organizing as part of the team and NBA Cares’ “Season of Giving.”

“It’s no problem for any of us,” Lopez said. “Look at Raj, look at Jimmy, they’re having a blast out there. They’re having as good of a time as the kids out there.”

Being a California native, the newfound snowfall added to the atmosphere for Lopez.

“This really feels like Christmas,” Lopez said. “I can feel the spirit inside with the kids and the looks on their faces when they walk in and see the toys, they see Jimmy Butler and they’re so excited to be a part of it.”

Whether it was Barbie Dreamhouses, or Nerf basketball rims, the kids were ecstatic to see the Bulls and to pick out the toys being distributed by the Bulls’ stars.

“Very humbling. Over 400 kids. And every kid comes through all smiling and excited,” Rondo said. “Some of them don’t get toys all year and this time of year is about giving. I’m very humbled.”

Butler has been around Bulls Charities since being drafted in 2011, so although this is old hat, he hasn’t lost any of the spirit that comes with doing events like this year after year.

He posed with kids for photos and cracked jokes to the younger basketball fans.

“Feels good. I just like being here. It’s what this time of year is all about, seeing these kids smile,” Butler said. “I love kids, I love this city, I want everybody to be happy all the time. However I can make that happen, especially around Christmas and the holidays, I’ll do.”

Lopez is quiet to many who see him on the floor, but his eyes lit up around the kids and made Benny the Bull his personal prop by picking him up and carrying him through the museum.

“Every time I see it, it’s a wonderful feeling. To think I’m a small part of it, I can’t begin to describe it,” Lopez said. “Any opportunity I get to work with kids, that’s always easy yes in my book. I’m a big kid at heart. Any time I can go play, I’m in.

“It’s indescribable. I got so many great gifts as a kid, and blessed in so many ways. Just to be able to give back in any facet, that’s an easy yes.”

Sunday's event leads up to Monday's Chicago Bulls Charities Night at the United Center. The Bulls host the Portland Trailblazers at 7 p.m. on CSN.