Irish want to finish title agenda

Updated: December 3, 2012, 3:37 AM ET
By Matt Fortuna | ESPN.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Zeke Motta arrived here four years ago from Vero Beach, Fla. He was born in Miami, less than a half-hour from the site of this season's Discover BCS National Championship Game.

No, he never circled the potential dream date on the schedule. Yes, he is psyched about the thought of his No. 1 Notre Dame team facing No. 2 and defending national champion Alabama for the national title on Jan. 7.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Brian Kelly
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesBrian Kelly has challenged his players to finish strong.

"It is the ideal world to be in right now, man. It's awesome," Motta said. "But, no, I never would've thought about it."

It will be even more ideal if the Irish climb one final hurdle, this one against a Crimson Tide team that is going for its third national title in the past four seasons.

Players and coaches gathered Sunday night in the auditorium of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, the program's football building, to watch the unofficial become official. They did so wearing matching navy and gold T-shirts that read "Unfinished Business," attire they found Sunday morning in their locker room, courtesy of equipment manager Ryan Grooms.

Coach Brian Kelly challenged his team after running the regular-season table, basically asking: Is this enough?

"I came before our football team and essentially I asked them: 'What do you want to do? Is 12-0 it? Are we going to kind of just flimflam our way through the next two, three, four weeks?' " Kelly said.

"'If that's the case, let's get that out right now. We'll have a nice break here. We'll go bowling a lot. We'll do those nice trips that you all want down in South Beach, or do you want to finish this thing off? So let me know so we can move forward.'

"And it was a pretty clear statement that they have some unfinished business, so that's why we went with the theme of 'Unfinished Business' with our football team. And clearly getting to 12-0 is one thing, but finishing off at 13-0 is what this team wanted to do, so that's the significance."

The historical significance between the two schools might not mean much for a group of 18- to 22-year-olds, but most have played and lived in a college football world that has been largely dominated by teams in the state of Alabama and the SEC in general, with the state teams winning the past three national titles and the conference winning the past six.

Notre Dame and Alabama boast the nation's top two scoring defenses this season.

"Yeah, definitely we wanted Alabama, and I think we got what we wanted because you throw in the old national champions, it'll be a good challenge for us," Motta said.

Kelly has used an SEC blueprint for Notre Dame's success this season, establishing strong lines on both sides of the ball and a consistent running game.

The 51-year-old coach has preached a one-game-at-a-time approach, consistently telling his players to "block out the noise." But the history buff in him couldn't resist the big-picture implications of a Notre Dame-Alabama matchup on the sport's biggest stage.

"Iconic," Kelly said. "Two great programs with great tradition. How can you not think about the houndstooth hat of Coach [Bear] Bryant and then coach [Gene] Stallings, and then you think of Ara [Parseghian] and Lou [Holtz]. Just the tradition. It's college football. It's what it's supposed to be.

"I think that history and tradition is terrific for the game and it makes the game so attractive, but for me it's still about the process. It's still about, I want to be the best team on Monday, Jan. 7. So that's my focus. But there's no mistaking the history and tradition, and it's good for college football."

Matt Fortuna | email

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