Notre Dame ready for BCS Championship picture to come into focus

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Notre Dame ready for BCS Championship picture to come into focus

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."

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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