In the 2012 BCS Championship game, No. 1 LSU, a team that beat Alabama 9-6 in Tuscaloosa and had previously handled eight teams ranked among the nation's top 25 (EIGHT!) instead looked like a team that prepared its game plan on the pre-game bus ride to the Super Dome, falling 21-0 to the Crimson Tide and rarely threatening the red zone, much less the goal line.
A lot can change between Thanksgiving and the New Year. That's the reality top college football teams face as they brace for a six-week plus layoff between the end of their regular season and the championship game.
For Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, his team's 45 days (35 remaining) will be well spent.
"We really think we have the nucleus of some great young players that are going to get a chance to develop during this period of time," he offered. "Its going to be a little like pre-season camp where we're going to get a chance to do a lot of fundamental work.
"We're going to get some young guys running; we're going to see (injured transfer) Amir Carlisle running around out there. We're going to get a chance to see some guys that haven't played this year. That's really exciting to me and our coaches, there's no question about that."
More than four weeks of work (the Irish will go light during finals week and likely home at Christmas from December 21-27) will also allow strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo ample time to fine tune his players for the one-game, winner-take-all event that waits.
"Getting our guys' weight back up and getting stronger in the weight room. Developing our football team and getting a little bit more weight on an Everett Golson," said Kelly as an example of the secondary benefit of time off. "Those are really exciting because they move your program along.
"And then, get a chance to focus on Alabama. There are really positive things that we can take out of this time, and make sure our guys know that they don't have to be involved in all three (phases) right away. We'll work our way up to it. If you're a senior, you don't have to be out there taking 60-70 reps the first couple of weeks."
12-0 is Not Good EnoughPrior to Kelly's arrival in December 2009, the new millennium at Notre Dame was more about empty promises and catchy credos than on field results. Slogans espousing rebirth, renewal, improvement and the like assaulted the senses and populated t-shirts, towels, and other canvas's better left blank to the benefit of no one save for the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, of course.
Today there's a new shirt even the most cynical fan can embrace, and it was worn by every Notre Dame player yesterday as they gathered as a team to watch the BCS selection show.
It reads: Unfinished Business
"We wanted to display where we are," said Kelly. "I came before our football team and essentially asked, 'Alright, what do you want to do? 12-0, is this it? Are we just going to flim-flam our way through the next four weeks? If that's the case, let's get that out right now and we'll have a nice break, we'll go bowling a lot and we'll do all those nice trips you want down to South Beach.
"Or -- do you want to finish this thing off? Let me know so we can move forward.'
"It was a pretty clear statement that they have some unfinished business. So that's why we went with that theme of 'Unfinished Business for our football team. Getting to 12-0 is one thing, but 13-0 is what this team wants to do."
Out of GasSenior linebacker, locker room and on field leader, team MVP, soon-to-be college graduate, Heisman candidate, Maxwell finalist, Lombardi finalist, Walter Camp finalist, Campbell Award finalisty, Butkus Award favorite, Nagurski Award favorite, Bednarik Award favorite, LOTT Trophy likely winner...tired student-athlete.
That's Manti Te'o in early December 2012. That won't be Manti Te'o in early January, so says his head coach.
"He's burned out. There's no question. He's on fumes right now," said Kelly of Te'o prior to this week's x-city awards tour. "But he also respects where he is in this process. To be mentioned for the kind of awards that he is, he's finding the energy to be engaged in all these things.
"But he's a football player. He wants to be with his teammates on Friday and Saturday when they practice and he's not going to be able to be there.
"He respects the process, he understands how important these things are and how they're recognized nationally. He'll get through this week, he'll get a little time off through the Holidays and he'll be ready to go."
Beginning Monday and ending Sunday, December 9, Te'o will be in Charlotte (Nagurski), New York (Campell), Houston (Lombardi), Orlando (Maxwell/Bednarik/Butkus), New York (Heisman), and Newport Beach, Calif. (LOTT). He was with his teammates on campus last night during the BCS selection show.
"I just go where I'm told," said Te'o last week after accepting the Awards and Recognition sportsmanship award. "I asked Coach Kelly to make sure there's a gym in whatever place we stay, so when I come back, I'm not a D-lineman."