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Notre Dame, Alabama arrive; try to manage distractions

by | CBSSports.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Notre Dame arrived to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of its matchup against Alabama in Monday's BCS Championship Game.

Hundreds of fans, Orange Bowl committee members and media greeted the Irish players and coaches as they stepped down the moveable stairs and onto the asphalt. Because more than 100 media members were present, Notre Dame representatives only made head coach Brian Kelly and senior wide receiver Roby Toma available for interviews.

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As the Irish gear up for the week ahead, the team will be at full strength and avoided any academic, disciplinary or physical impediments.

"Everybody was on that plane that was supposed to be on that plane," Kelly said. "There were no setbacks physically, nothing that came out of nowhere and changed who was on the travel plan."

One of the main injury concerns for the Irish headed into Monday night's game was the health of wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, who missed the last two games of the regular season because of surgery to repair a broken clavicle.

"He'll play a role and we hope it's a significant role in what we do," Kelly said.

Daniels sustained the injury Nov. 10 against Boston College and has 25 receptions for 375 yards on the season -- third best for the Irish.

One of the constants that come with participation in the BCS Championship Game is the need for players to balance enthusiasm, anxiety and energy. Throughout the trip from South Bend, Kelly has had to manage these emotions.

"We've got some seniors and some leaders that have been through some really tough games and they know what to expect when the games start," Kelly said. "So all that emotion and all that anxiety, it goes away after the first hit. We'll make sure that everybody is on the same page there, but they're a veteran group and they know how to handle the moment."

Still, there is no question that energy will be running high for the Irish.

"Last night I really started getting anxious watching the NIU-Florida State game, just realizing that we were going to be playing in that stadium on Monday," Toma said. "It's a little nerve-racking but we're ready for it."

Business versus pleasure

A storyline that always hits the news cycle during the week of the BCS Championship Game is the effect of the many distractions offered at host cities. Miami and Fort Lauderdale are no strangers to diversions.

Throughout Notre Dame's trip in South Florida this week, Kelly wants his team to practice a balance of both.

"We want to have fun while we're here too," he said. "It's a business trip, there's no question. We're here to play the game. I want our guys relaxed. They've done all the work. We've got some practices that we want to take care of but I want them relaxed and ready to play."

To help do that, Notre Dame is attending Wednesday night's game between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks at the AmericanAirlines Arena.

"It's my first NBA game, so I'm really excited about that," Toma said.

While the Irish players are taking in all of the sights and sounds, the coaches are more focused on Alabama. Toma said that he and his teammates played each other in a phone game, Bike Race, throughout the flight. With the three-hour trip, however, Kelly spent his time looking ahead to Monday.

"I just did some polishing up a little bit on the gameplan," he said. "It's all about Alabama in our gameplan so we're not doing anything relative to skill-work or of that nature. It's just some more things that we want to rep out and find out where we're at."


As Notre Dame continued to defeat its opponents en route to an undefeated season, there were few games in which the squad was considered an underdog. Road games against Michigan State and Oklahoma were the lone exceptions. With Alabama heading into the weekend as a double-digit favorite to win the BCS Championship Game, Irish players and coaches have not been immune to the predictions.

"I think we've played a lot of games as underdogs this year," Toma said. "A lot of people have doubted us. Nothing is going to change and you have to compete for four quarters. We're not going to guarantee a win, but we're just going to go out there and play."

While Kelly said he did not believe the team was using its status as an underdog for motivation, he was clear about his expectations for practices leading up to Monday night's game.

"You don't go 35 days and condition your team to come out here and blow it for three days," Kelly said. "So we've had plenty of fun. We will enjoy our time here, but we're here to win a football game."

The Tide rolls in

While Notre Dame was having its welcome reception, Alabama arrived at Miami International Airport about an hour after its counterparts. The Crimson Tide had a similar greeting with the Orange Bowl committee, fans and several members of the media.

The buses took Alabama to its team hotel, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

Alabama will hold its first practice in South Florida Thursday at Barry University while Notre Dame will hold its practice at Nova Southeastern University, where the NFL's Miami Dolphins are headquartered.

Follow Lorenzo Reyes @LReyesCBS


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