No. 1 Notre Dame awaits heavily-favored SEC champ

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No. 1 Notre Dame awaits heavily-favored SEC champ

LOS ANGELES -- An SEC team has dispatched its opponent in the BCS Championship in each of the last six years, building a string of unprecedented dominance atop college football. While plenty may cry the conference is overrated or overexposed, it's tough to argue with the six titles won by Florida, LSU, Alabama and Auburn.
Notre Dame -- which opened Sunday as the unanimous No. 1 in the AP poll and received 56 of 59 first-place votes in the coaches poll -- has a chance to dethrone the SEC on Jan. 7 in Miami. The Irish will face the winner of Saturday's SEC championship game, played in Atlanta between No. 2 Alabama, which received two first-place votes in the coaches poll, and No. 3 Georgia, which received one.
No matter who the Irish play, they'll be underdogs.
Alabama has been pegged as a double-digit favorite over Notre Dame in recent weeks, while Georgia would likely be somewhere in the range of a five-point favorite.
But for all the SEC chest-beating, the national championship comes down to one game. And Houston Nutt, who coached at Ole Miss and Arkansas, doesn't see why an underdog Irish squad couldn't beat an SEC powerhouse.
"You got 30 days to get ready, I think you don't know. You just don't know," Nutt told CSNChicago earlier in November. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. You look at Boise State several years ago, one of the funnest games I've ever seen. Boise State got ready for Oklahoma and they beat them. Absolutely, it could happen."
Notre Dame still has plenty of things to work on despite an unblemished record, with the biggest area for improvement lying in the offense's ability to finish drives. Kyle Brindza attempted six field goals in Notre Dame's 22-13 win over USC, hitting five. But for Notre Dame's offense to hit its peak, those three points need to turn into seven more often.
"We definitely have to improve. We're not there yet, we don't feel like it," running back Theo Riddick said Saturday. "We're going to go back next week, look at the tape, figure out what we can get better at and do that during that week. We have time. Coach Kelly is going to set up some things to actually let us score touchdowns, because we have to. We have to get better at that being in the red zone. We're going to do that, and we're going to be okay."
Plenty of prognosticators have penciled Alabama in to face Notre Dame after beating a Georgia, a team that's best victory came in a sloppy game against Florida. But few expected Texas A&M to go into Bryant-Denny Stadium and win earlier this month, and with one of the SEC's best quarterbacks in Aaron Murray, Georgia shouldn't be counted out.
Alabama, though, looks like the favorite. And if they move on, Nick Saban will have a chance to win his third championship in four years, establishing a string of dominance not seen since Nebraska in the mid-90's.
"When Notre Dame watches the film and watches Alabama, they're going to see how physical, how fast and how very consistent they are," Nutt said. "They don't beat themselves. They win the turnover margin. They're a well-coached team. Alabama is used to winning, they expect to win. I'd be a heck of a battle."
A theme for Notre Dame this year has been to control what they can control. That meant trying not to concern themselves with how Alabama, Kansas State and Oregon played. Now, that means not worrying about who they'll face in the BCS Championship.
"We'll focus on us," coach Brian Kelly said. "It won't be, alright, it's this team or that team. We gotta figure out over the next six weeks how we get better as a football team. It'll be about us."

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