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Te’o gearing up for Alabama

    Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te'o, right, jokes with assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Bob Diaco before a news conference, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Notre Dame will play Alabama on Jan. 7 in the NCAA college football BCS Championship game. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. » Manti Te’o answered questions for an hour this morning for around 150 media members covering the Discover BCS National Championship game.

Te’o, the Notre Dame senior linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up from Laie and Punahou, is the single biggest name in Monday’s game between the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) and defending champion Alabama (12-1) at Sun Life Stadium.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco shared the podium with Te’o before the team’s first practice here today.

“Manti has actually practiced harder the last week than he has all season,” Diaco said. “So he has raised his game even just as early as last week and leading up to the travel here to South Florida.

Te’o expressed respect for the Crimson Tide, but confidence despite being 10-point underdogs.

“We know who we are, obviously, and we obviously know who Alabama is, and as this week goes on and the practices continue, we’ll know the terrain,” Te’o said. “For me, I’ve always been a believer that regardless of the situation, the field is still 120 yards long, football is still the same shape, and everybody straps on their chinstraps the same way. So we understand that this is a big game, but at the end of the day, it’s still football, and I think when we start to do things differently than we’ve done all season, that’s when we’re going to start getting into trouble.”

Earlier, Alabama offensive players and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier spoke. Nussmeier said Notre Dame’s defense presents a challenge because it is superb at the most important part of its job: Keeping opponents out of the end zone.

“To me the biggest thing is they lead the nation in scoring defense,” Nussmeier said. “They’ve given up 10.3 points a game. … The goal of the game is to score points.”

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron said Te’o “is the heart and soul for them. He’s going to be a big key to the game, like always.”

“You look at the interceptions, the tackles, he always seems to be around the ball,” Nussmeier said. “He has great natural instincts. Obviously he’s a phenomenal athlete. It’s going to be very important that we know where he is at all times.”

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