— SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has bigger things to worry about right now than defending national champion Alabama.
With the national championship game between top-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) and the Crimson Tide (12-1) more than a month away, Kelly's main concern is making sure his will be ready to play after 44 days without a game.
"We're just trying to be better than Alabama on Monday, Jan. 7," Kelly said. "So our entire focus will be on a one-game season, trying to be better on Monday, Jan. 7. So you can understand, we don't want to be better than Alabama on the 27th of December."
Alabama has already shown it knows how to be ready after long layoffs, winning the BCS title game in 2009 and again last season. Kelly said he talked to coaches at LSU, Oregon to get advice on how best prepare for a long layoff and they reinforced his plan of starting off slow with fundamentals.
Last week and this week, Irish players have been focusing on conditioning, weightlifting and school work. It's a chance for players who may have lost a few pounds to get back up to weight and gain strength, he said. Notre Dame will hold its first practices on Friday and Saturday, then hold six more practices before players head home on Dec. 21. They'll return to campus for practices Dec. 28-31, and then leave for Miami on Jan. 2. They will practice three times in Florida before the game.
The early practices will have a preseason camp feel stressing fundamentals and giving younger players more work, then begin to fine tune the practices for Alabama as the game draws nearer, Kelly said.
The time away from the field will help some players. Kelly mentioned linebacker Manti Te'o specifically as someone who needs a little time to recover with all the attention he's been under as he begins traveling the nation for all the awards he's up for. He won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker on Monday and was named one of the Heisman Trophy finalists, too.