While a favorite mantra of Brian Kelly has been to tune out the noise, Notre Dame players have relished their role as underdogs during the 2012 season. After beating Oklahoma, multiple players mentioned getting added motivation from the "haters" (one player specifically mentioned ESPN's Mark May by name) who picked the Irish to lose by double digits in Norman.
Even at No. 1, though, there are plenty who don't think Notre Dame will beat USC -- and even if they do, the Irish would be double-digit dogs to Alabama, if the Tide wind up winning the SEC to advance to the BCS Championship.
"There's still haters out there that say 'they don't deserve to be No. 1, they aren't that good, they've had so many close games, blah, blah, blah,'" senior wide receiver John Goodman said. "A win's a win. Right now we're 11-0 with a possible 12-0 season, and that's all that matters."
One person who doesn't think Notre Dame will win on Saturday is USC's quarterback, Max Wittek, who rankled some with comments on an ESPN Radio affiliate in Los Angeles guaranteeing his team would beat the Irish. But Notre Dame players weren't bothered by the comment, at least publicly.
"He said what he said, but at the end of the day he's not going to go out and say that they're going to lose," center Braxston Cave. "Any guy who's a competitor is going to try to motivate his team and do whatever he can to get his team ready to go, and he was given his opportunity to get a start and he's excited for that. He can say whatever he wants to say. We're going to come out and play our game Saturday night."
Cave's point is pertinent, since any player is going to say they're confident about winning, no matter who the upcoming opponent is. Wittek -- a redshirt freshman -- just wasn't politically correct in his comments, although his sentiment is hardly unique.
"We still have two practices left and a lot of traveling to do before we let that set in, but we're going to stay focused, we're going to stay poised, we're going to stay composed," Goodman said. "We need to be able to get our game plan in and get whatever we need to do in place before we get worked up about a comment."
But Notre Dame players may take a little added motivation from Wittek's comments, even if they won't admit it before the game. If Wittek didn't make those remarks, though, the location of the game may have been enough to cultivate that us-against-the-world mentality.
"Any time you go on the road, you're going to be considered the underdog, especially when you're playing your rival, and when you're the No. 1 team in the country everyone's out to get you," Cave said. "We know we're going to have to go out there and play our best game."