Irish excited to test themselves against the best

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Irish excited to test themselves against the best

Notre Dame may be 12-0 and ranked No. 1, but make no mistake: they're major underdogs to Alabama in next month's BCS Championship.

While some players are drawing motivation from that status -- an "us vs. the world" mentality continues to resonate -- others see the BCS Championship as a chance to see where they stand against a team regarded as the best in the country.

"A team from the SEC, a team like Alabama, coached by Nick Saban, those guys will make you better all around," defensive tackle Louis Nix said. "Im just happy we get a chance to play these guys in the National Championship."

His defensive coordinator agreed.

"The fact of the matter is Alabama is king of the hill," Bob Diaco said. "Have you ever played King of the Hill? Did you walk up the hill and knock the guy off? Thats what weve gotta do. Theyre King of the Hill. They set the precedent for defensive football in the country."

Notre Dame's front seven might have the toughest challenge on Jan. 7, going up against an Alabama offensive line loaded with pro prospects. Nix may have the most important matchup, squaring off against All-American center Barrett Jones.

"That gives me an opportunity to better myself and see where I fit at in the country with other nose tackles that went up against him," Nix said.

While Notre Dame's focus is just on this one game, there's plenty the Irish can learn -- win or lose -- from Alabama, in terms of consistency within a program. The Tide will play in their third title game in four years next month, a fact which isn't lost on coach Brian Kelly.

"Alabama has been the benchmark for college football," Kelly explained. "... Were aware of the challenge in front of us. We welcome it. It's one that were putting ourselves in a position to go find out where we need to go from here."

Why Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be 'pulling hard' for the Bears this season

Why Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be 'pulling hard' for the Bears this season

Jim Harbaugh is a former Chicago Bear, but that's not the main reason why he'll be rooting for the Monsters of the Midway this fall.

Harbaugh, the current Michigan head coach and former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, used to coach alongside current Bears assistants Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell in the Bay Area.

Fangio, the Bears' defensive coordiantor, and Donatell, the Bears' defensive backs coach, held those same positions for all four of Harbaugh's seasons leading the Niners.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Harbaugh voiced his support for his former assistants Monday, speaking with CSN's Pat Boyle at the Golf.Give.Gala golf outing in St. Charles.

"I know (the Bears) are going to have a heck of a defense," Harbaugh said. "Because I know they've got Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell and a tremendous coaching staff. So I'll be pulling hard for them."

Harbaugh also was asked about new Bears quarterback Mike Glennon, and you can hear his comments in the video above, as well as comments from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer on another new Bears quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.

Notes from the rewatch: Nemanja Nikolic unable to beat Bill Hamid

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USA TODAY

Notes from the rewatch: Nemanja Nikolic unable to beat Bill Hamid

Two recent trends with the Chicago Fire got flipped in Saturday's win at D.C. United, not even counting that it was the Fire's first road win of the season.

Nemanja Nikolic entered Saturday's game at D.C. United as arguably the hottest striker in Major League Soccer. He had plenty of scoring chances, most of them good ones, but couldn't convert after being very efficient in recent games.

Also, D.C. is a team struggling offensively and entered without its top playmaker in Luciano Acosta, out serving a red card suspension, so it relied on set pieces and long throws to create scoring opportunities. That's something the Fire have had troubles with this year, notably in the LA game a few weeks ago. However, the defense held strong to survive the onslaught of balls into the box.

Here's more on those two things, plus Bastian Schweinsteiger's near assist of the year.

Defending set pieces

Without Acosta, D.C. found itself relying even more on free kicks, crosses and long throws to get the ball in the box. After recent struggles defending set pieces, this could have been a problem on paper for the Fire.

D.C. completed just three of 16 crosses and only one of those three led to a shot. Of D.C.'s three corner kicks, none first went to a D.C. player.

There were five more long throws, four from the left by Taylor Kemp and one from the right by Chris Korb. D.C. won flick headers on a pair of those, but nothing came from those chances. The best chance was when a ball fell to Patrick Mullins in the box following a deflection. He slid for an open shot in the box, but shot over the bar.

Overall, the Fire did well to handle the barrage of balls flung into the box from distance.

Nikolic's missed scoring opportunities

Nikolic still has the league lead in goals, even after not scoring in this one. His 10 goals are more than D.C. and the Fire's previous opponent, Colorado, have scored as teams.

He had seven shots, more than twice the amount of any other player on the field, and put four on target. No other player had more than one shot on target. Despite these numbers, Nikolic did not score.

Matt Polster gave him a good chance in the 29th minute. Nikolic's first-touch shot from 10 yards out was blocked. He hit it well, but it was a good block.

David Accam crossed to Nikolic on the back post just before halftime. Nikolic put the header on target, but didn't get enough on it to get it past goalkeeper Bill Hamid.

In the final 10 minutes things really picked up for Nikolic. He tried to round Hamid in the 81st minute, but couldn't get around the big man and then his shot from a tight angle was saved. Three minutes later Hamid made his best save with a diving stop to deny a streaking Nikolic, who was coming in from the right side.

Hamid gets credit for these stops, but Nikolic's best chance came in added time after Schweinsteiger set him up on a platter.

Schweinsteiger robbed of assist of the year

The biggest of Nikolic’s blown chances was Schweinsteiger’s elusive dribbling at the end line in added time. If Nikolic finished the open shot, it would have been one of the best assists you’d see in any league around the world this season. Instead the viral clips of the play were either truncated before Nikolic’s shoots over the bar or included the somewhat comedic finish to a highlight-reel play.

Schweinsteiger got a bit of the last laugh after suffering four fouls, no player was fouled more during the match, against a physical team.

This play got the most attention from Schweinsteiger's game and it could have really blown up had Nikolic finished it off. Don't forget that Schweinsteiger nearly gave D.C. a goal by turning the ball over with a lateral pass right to Lloyd Sam at the edge of the penalty box a few minutes after the Fire took the lead. That certainly would have flipped the prevailing view of Schweinsteiger's performance as well.