"The biggest thing is getting everyone going," junior co-captain Brady Quinn said. "We have these few practices, then we go home for Christmas and then out there for bowl practice. This is a time where we can get good preparation in and really get into the tendencies they like to do and prepare for the bowl game. I think the guys really feel a sense of urgency to get everything they can out of these practices."
The Irish will be going through a mini training camp to prepare themselves both physically and mentally for the game versus the Buckeyes that is now less than two weeks away. Notre Dame has two-a-days on Tuesday and Thursday and single practice sessions on Wednesday and Friday. After Friday, the team will adjourn for a short break to spend time with their families for Christmas before meeting back up to fly out to Tempe, Arizona. The ability to focus solely on preparing for the Buckeyes without the added weight of attending classes is an aspect of the week that appeals to the players.
"It's all football," Quinn said. "You don't really have time to get distracted. You are pretty much locked down and focusing on your opponent the entire day. That allows you to see their tendencies and what they like to do. It's a big impact when you are in such a concentrated environment."
"This week, for one of the first times in my life, I have nothing to concentrate on but football," senior linebacker Brandon Hoyte said. "So I'm really excited about that. It feels good actually. I got to mess with Coach (Charlie) Weis. I'm going to see how bad this NFL thing can really be."
And how was Coach Weis doing on the first day back?
"Same way that he always is," running back Darius Walker said. "He was pumped up and ready to go. Very business like. He's a no-nonsense type of guy. He's approaching this game like that and he's focused on the goal."
"I think he's still keeping us in that get-nasty mentality. He's letting us know we can play with anyone."
*The oddsmakers have Notre Dame anywhere from a 3 ½ to 5 point underdog heading into the Fiesta Bowl matchup vs. the Buckeyes. The reasons for this spread can vary from Ohio State losing their two games to the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams in the nation to the Irish's final game struggle against Stanford.
The underdog role is nothing new for Notre Dame. Heading into the season, some "experts" were predicting a 0-6 start. But consecutive wins over Pittsburgh and Michigan, both games in which Notre Dame was the betting line underdog, changed some minds. Now, the critics bash the Irish for not being deserving as other teams for the at-large BCS spot and the 11-year bowl losing streak. The Notre Dame players hear the talk and are using it as motivation.
"If we lose this game, everyone is going to remember our loss to USC and the bowl game and that we played the top teams in the country and lost to them," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "We still have that bitter taste from the USC game. I think everyone is counting on us to lose this game as it is. There is nothing better than proving somebody wrong. I love playing as the underdog. For whatever reason, I like playing on the road more than at home. I like sending people home disappointed. That's just the way I am."
"I think we're hungry and we're out to prove everyone wrong," safety Tom Zbikowski said. "Nobody said we'd be 9-2 and in a BCS game. We are and now people are saying we can't win bowl games. We're up for another match. We just want to win. We don't care what people say. We don't care how much they doubt us. If we're the underdog, we just want to go out and win."
*One of the many reasons for Ohio State being ranked first in the country against the run is their great core of linebackers. Weak side linebacker A.J. Hawk, who was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is a household name among college football fans and has been mentioned frequently by the Notre Dame players in the lead-up to the Fiesta Bowl.
But the health of another member of the unit might be the bigger story for the Ohio State defense. Strong side backer Bobby Carpenter broke his right ankle on the first play of the Buckeyes win over Michigan and his return to the lineup for the Fiesta Bowl is in question. The backup for Carpenter is freshman James Laurinaitis, who saw action in all 11 games but played mostly in garbage time. For the year, Carpenter has 10.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks, including an Ohio State-record four against Michigan State.
"Right now it is 50/50 on if I will play," Carpenter said. "It is getting better. The last couple of days I have felt much better. If I am medically cleared, I will play."