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Kelly, Irish prep for long layoff

You couldn’t cut the tension with a chainsaw. Notre Dame’s players shuffled into the team auditorium Sunday night mostly so the rest of the world could watch them watch the formality of a BCS announcement that put the Irish in its first national championship in 24 years. Their minds and their wardrobe had already shifted to the challenge at hand.

Notre Dame players gathered at the Guglielmino Complex Sunday night to watch the official BCS announcement.

Each Irish player wore a fresh-out-of-the-box navy blue shirt with “Unfinished Business” blazoned in gold letters across the chest. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had already tucked his team’s 12-0 season into a bottom drawer and started scouting the one team left between him and a national championship. Now, he and the Irish have five long weeks to weather before getting their chance.

Notre Dame’s dancing partner in Miami will be No. 2 Alabama. The Crimson Tide arrived in their third title game in the last four years in more dramatic fashion, beating Georgia in a thrilling 32-28 Southeastern Conference Championship almost exactly 24 hours before the official announcement.

Alabama and its head coach, Nick Saban, have been here before. They have mastered the waiting game and helped propel the powerful SEC on its current six-year winning streak in the national championship game. That kind of dominance inspired Kelly to construct Notre Dame’s resurgence with an SEC template. It’s worked so far, there’s no reason to stop now.

“Nick, I was going to try to listen to you. You’ve been through this already,” Kelly joked when a reporter asked the coaches about how they would keep players fresh and engaged during the next 35 days.

Both coaches laid out their itineraries for December, and like the products they direct on gamedays, they were strikingly similar. Kelly said he had already checked in with the coaching staffs from recent championship participants Oregon and LSU and received nods of approval for his plans.

“We try to look at it like it’s a one game season,” Saban said and Kelly later echoed.

Pre-Christmas practices in South Bend and Tuscaloosa — Notre Dame’s first team workout is scheduled for this Friday — will resemble fall training camp. Coaches have time to take a longer look at younger players and preach fundamentals while the more experienced side of the team heals and replenishes for a final push.

For Kelly, the biggest focus will be on getting his players to peak on Jan. 7 and not a day sooner. He said he won’t start to unravel the Xs and Os of unseating the Tide until late December, but that doesn’t mean he’s waiting until then to see what his team will be up against. The Irish coach was in Atlanta this weekend for the SEC Championship game. He said what stood out most about Alabama’s 350-yard rushing performance against the Bulldogs was their faith in sticking with what got them there.

“What really stood out to me is that they were going to exert their will and it didn’t matter that they were down they were going to run the football,” Kelly said. “They were going to go with their strength, and I like watching teams that want to beat you mentally as well as physically.”

Saban parried with compliments of his own, calling Notre Dame’s front seven perhaps the best in the country. There’s time for pleasantries now. Only 35 more days to go.

Quick Hits
- Sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels will participate in non-contact drills during Notre Dame’s first bowl practice on Dec. 7. Daniels had 25 catches before breaking his collarbone against Boston College in early November. He is expected to be completely healthy in time for Jan. 7.

- Senior left tackle Zack Martin remained in a walking boot for the better part of the past week after an injury in the second half against USC. Kelly said the extended healing time was mostly a precaution and he expected Martin to be able to practice on Friday. Alabama’s top offensive lineman, center Barrett Jones, left Saturday’s SEC Final on crutches, but is also expected to be healthy enough to practice this month.

- A wrist injury for Irish nose guard Louis Nix was not severe enough to keep him from lifting weights during the past week.

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