Forum Spin Doctor
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame safety Chinedum Ndukwe understands why many consider the No. 11 Fighting Irish underdogs entering their Sugar Bowl matchup against No. 4 LSU.
"Everyone's saying we have no chance," Ndukwe said. "I guess we haven't given them any reason to think otherwise with the two big games that we've played in."
The Irish (10-2) are 0-2 this season against teams ranked in the top 10, losing 47-21 to Michigan in the third game of the season and 44-24 to USC in the regular-season finale.
"I think some people have the right to give us the stigma that they have because of what we've done in the big games and how we've performed," tailback Darius Walker said. "I think we're using that to fuel our motivation."
Not everyone on the Irish is as understanding as Ndukwe and Walker about the Irish doubters.
"I get tired of hearing how bad we are," quarterback Brady Quinn said. "I mean, that's all people seem to be saying sometimes. Notre Dame is one of those universities where it's kind of like either you love it or you hate it. It's tough because you've got to deal with the criticism all the time."
Although the Irish finished 11th in the BCS standings and two teams that finished ahead of them - Wisconsin and Auburn - weren't eligible for a BCS bowl because of the limit of two teams per conference, some questioned whether the Irish were deserving of the berth in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3.
Questions center on their team speed, particularly on defense. The Irish rank 45th nationally in total defense, giving up an average of 320 yards a game - the lowest-rated defense among BCS teams. But that's only slightly worse than Louisville, which is 40th at 315 yards a game.
The problem for the Irish, though, is LSU is third in the nation in total defense, giving up just 239 yards a game.
Irish coach Charlie Weis dismisses talk about a talent disparity between the Irish and the Tigers (10-2).
"Ask the draft gurus right now what they think of our team. I think a lot of guys would sit there and rattle off close to 10 guys that I think have a chance of playing on Sunday, so I don't use that as an excuse," Weis said.
"I think that's easy for a coach to say, 'Well, they're a lot more talented.' Do they have good speed? Are they good on offense? You bet. Are they good on defense? Look at the stats. Right across the board you have to be realistic, who you're going against. But I like our players and I think our players will show up with the intent of winning the game."
Weis acknowledges LSU's home advantage for the game in New Orleans, and he notes how the Tigers have gotten off to fast starts all season. But he became short when asked about Notre Dame's chances.
"If you think we're going down there to get our butts beat, you're wrong," Weis said. "That's not our intention. We're not throwing in the towel. We're going in with the intention of winning."
Quinn said the Irish are looking at the game as an opportunity.
"I think if we play the way we're capable of in all three facets of the game, people are going to really see how good this team can be," he said.