SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The grind of a season can take its toll on a team as the games pile up, but now, Notre Dame has a completely different issue to deal with: a 44-day layoff between games.
An upshot of playing in the season's final game is the lengthy layoff, which for Notre Dame began when the clock hit zero on Nov. 24 in Los Angeles and won't end until the night of Jan. 7 in South Florida.
Notre Dame players filed into the Gug Sunday to watch the BCS selection show wearing shirts boasting the team's "unfinished business." Those aren't an unfortunate homage to Matt Barkley and USC's preseason motto, but instead a motivational slogan for the team's extended break.
"Were not taking this period off, were not taking a break," safety Zeke Motta said. "Were going to get after it and let our bodies heal given the proper amount of time, but were still going to be doing some stuff to make sure that were going to be on our A-game."
For last week and this week, that means conditioning and weight training, as well as letting players get caught up on classwork as finals week begins Dec. 10. The team's first bowl practice is Friday, giving them a month of preparation -- minus six days for Christmas between Dec. 21-27 -- for the BCS Championship.
These are uncharted waters for Brian Kelly, who spoke to coaches at LSU and Oregon about their preparation for the last two BCS Championships.
"We were pretty much right on with what we thought the schedule should look like leading in to the championship game," Kelly said. "Its a one-game deal. Were just trying to be better than Alabama on Monday, Jan. 7. Our entire focus will be on a one-game season, trying to be better on Monday, Jan. 7. We dont want to be better than Alabama on the 27th of December."
Alabama coach Nick Saban is a veteran at dealing with these championship breaks, and will guide the Tide through them for the third time in four years. When asked about the plan for layoffs on a conference call with both coaches Sunday, Kelly joked he wanted Saban to answer the question first to get an idea of how Alabama has succeeded in December and January preparation.
"The way we try to do it, youre so far removed from the season to the bowl game, especially when you play Jan. 7 in the National Championship game, we try to look at it like its a one-game season," Saban explained. "Let the players finish the semester, do weight training and conditioning for the next couple weeks and then we start to have some fundamental practices, camp-like -- like fall camp. Take a few days off for Christmas, come back and start getting ready for the game in terms of challenges that Notre Dame presents to our team."
That plan sounds right about in line with Kelly's. But no matter how long the break is between games, getting players motivated in practice won't be a battle Notre Dame's coaches will have to fight.
"Its the National Championship, so I dont care if we have to prepare for two months," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "Youre playing for all the marbles."