Don’t talk to Notre Dame sophomore defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt about the surreal nature of the 2012 season, or the dream-like state that the 12-0 regular season has induced.
This is not some freak of nature where a few lucky bounces landed the Irish in the No. 1 spot in the country. This is not a fluke or an unexpected alignment of celestial bodies.
Notre Dame earned the right to be ranked No. 1.
“What we did during the off-season, working hard, it’s not like it was a miracle that we did this,” said Tuitt shortly after he and nose guard Louis Nix were presented with the Edward “Moose” Krause Lineman of the Year Award Friday night at The Echoes in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
“We wanted this. We go out every day saying we’re the No. 1 team in the country, and we instilled that in our brains. We went out there with the confidence to be the No. 1 team in America, and we are. It’s not like a miracle. We worked hard for it. We worked hard to be the No. 1 team.”
But down around from where Tuitt hails - Monroe, Ga. - is SEC country. The Southeastern Conference has put forth six straight national title winners, including Notre Dame’s Jan. 7 opponent - Alabama - which is shooting for its third national title in four seasons.
Initially installed as a 7 ½-point favorite, the line has moved to 9 ½, clearly indicating the notion that the Crimson Tide are the odds-on selection to claim the national championship.
Such talk doesn’t impact Tuitt.
“That doesn’t bother me at all, that doesn’t affect me at all,” said Tuitt, who totaled a team-leading 12 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and three fumbles forced. He also tied for second in quarterback hurries (nine) to go along with a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
“I know that area, I’m from that area. It’s not shocking they think that way.”
Tuitt relishes the challenge of matching up against Alabama’s talented and veteran offensive line.
“They’re a big offensive line,” Tuitt said. “They’re tough and physical. They’ll keep running the ball. They produce a lot of open runs for their running backs. So it’s going to be a tough game in the trenches.”
Tuitt can’t wait for the opportunity.
“We love a physical game,” Tuitt said. “The offensive line for Alabama is probably one of the best offensive lines we’ve gone against. It will be really exciting to prepare for them.”
Friday night, Tuitt enjoyed watching his senior teammates revel in the spoils of a 12-0 season at The Echoes.
“It’s fun to take some time away and get recognized for your accomplishments,” Tuitt said. “I’m just glad to be here with my teammates. I like being with the seniors. I get to see them one more time having a great time with my team.
“I can’t feel that emotion right now because I’m so young as a sophomore. But I can see them and I can see it in their faces. It’s their last game. For it to be the national championship is one of the best wishes I could have for these seniors.”