Notre Dame isn't supposed to be here.
Entering the season with a freshman quarterback under center, the Fighting Irish weren't supposed to contend for a National Championship.
A strong season and BCS Bowl Game were the loftiest of expectations placed upon the Fighting Irish.
There wasn't much love for Notre Dame then—and I'm still trying to find the love for them now.
Where's the love for Notre Dame? It certainly isn't coming from the prognosticators in Las Vegas.
VegasInsider.com pegs the Fighting Irish as 9.5-point underdogs to the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, while Covers.com has Notre Dame as 10-point underdogs when they meet the Tide for the BCS National Championship in Miami Gardens on Jan. 7.
Bleacher Report is getting in on the action, with both SEC Football Lead Writer Barrett Sallee and National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder predicting an Alabama victory.
Even those who are picking Notre Dame can't help but take veiled shots at the Fighting Irish. Surfing the web, you'll find no shortage of stories that talk about how the Fighting Irish will "upset" the Crimson Tide for the crystal football.
If you didn't know any better, you'd think that Alabama finished the season as the No. 1 team in the country with an undefeated record and that Notre Dame had a loss or two and sat second in the BCS Rankings.
With no expectations comes little outside pressure—the bulk of that is firmly entrenched on the Alabama sideline.
That's not to say that there's no pressure at all on Brian Kelly's squad, for surely there is.
From current students to alumni, boosters to fans and the players and coaches themselves: They all expect the Fighting Irish to produce in the biggest game that the school has played in over a decade.
But Alabama enters this game with the weight of defending their national championship—and the "honor" of the SEC—on their shoulders.
Notre Dame is only playing for Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish have risen to the occasion when told that they cannot succeed all season long.
So haters, keep on hating. Nonbelievers, keep on doubting.
That hate and disbelief has helped to stoke the flames of the Fighting Irish all season long—and it will have them burning as bright as ever against Alabama.