Notre Dame players wore T-shirts with the phrase "unfinished business" when they gathered to watch Sunday's BCS selection show, which had the official announcement that the No. 1 Irish (12-0) will play No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the BCS championship game Jan. 7 in Miami.
Coach Brian Kelly said the decision to pump up having something left to do was important to continue to motivate the first undefeated Irish team since 1988, which was also the last time Notre Dame won a national championship.
"We wanted to display where we are," Kelly said. "The mindset is I came before our football team and, essentially I said, 'What do you want to do? Is 12-0, is this it. Are we going to just kind of flim-flam our way through the next two, three, four weeks, if that's the case let's get that out right now. And we will have a nice break here, we'll go bowling a lot and we will do those nice trips that you all want in South Beach. Or do you want to finish this thing off? So let me know, so we can move forward.'
"It was a pretty clear statement that they have some unfinished business, so that's why we have the theme of unfinished business with our football team."
Irish running back Theo Riddick had a shorter answer to what the shirts meant to him, but the message was the same.
"It's great to be 12-0 right now, but it's even better to be 13-0," Riddick said. "We still got a lot of work to do."
Kelly said he isn't worried about three things that can be seen as distractions leading up to the championship game.
During the little more than a month wait for the showdown with the Tide, the Irish will be dealing with players wondering if they will be granted a fifth year, other players – like Bishop Dwenger grad and tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Cierre Wood – deciding if they want to return or try to jump into the NFL and also the possibility of losing assistant coaches to programs looking for a new head coach.
"The primary conversations have already taken place with those guys that have another season of competition," Kelly said. "We haven't made any decisions, but a lot of that is a lot of our guys know where they are moving. I think that we have some guys that want to look at the NFL opportunity, and we filled out paperwork for guys to be evaluated for the NFL. And then we will have coaches that will be targeted by other programs.
"That is a good thing, all three of those things. That means good things are happening in your program. Those are the kind of problems that I want to deal with on a day-to-day basis, because that means that you are developing your program in a manner that is putting you in a position to compete for championships. Those are all things that real good programs have to deal with, and we will deal with them appropriately."
One assistant coach who will likely be pursued this year is defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
It was reported Sunday that Boston College will interview Diaco this week for its vacant coaching position. Kelly said he wasn't surprised that Diaco would be pursued.
"I think he's the finest defensive coordinator in the country," Kelly said. "Bob is a bright football coach. We have conversations about it, all I can tell you is that it doesn't surprise me that he is part of it."
Notre Dame will not need the long wait for the Jan. 7 title game to heal.
Kelly said his team is in good shape after finishing the season 12-0 with only nose tackle Louis Nix III nursing an injury that the coach specifically mentioned Sunday night.
"Louis Nix has got a wrist, He's had two very good days of weight training and conditioning," Kelly said. "I really think that from a health standpoint there's nobody that wouldn't be able to practice on Friday, moving forward over the next couple of days.
"We got out of the USC game, pretty good."
Kelly said left tackle Zack Martin, who was injured late against USC, was in a protective boot for five days and responded very well and would have been able to play if the Irish had a game last Saturday.
Kelly also said that receiver DaVaris Daniels, who missed the last two games of the season with a broken clavicle, is on track to come back.
"He's doing really well," Kelly said. "He started moving his shoulder the first week (freshman receiver) Chris Brown caught a couple of passes out there. It was really quick medicine for him."
While Kelly was joking about a teammate's performance helping Daniels get back, he wasn't kidding around about getting the 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore back for the championship game.
"Week 5 will be full-contact for him," Kelly said. "He's running already. We will have non-contact with him starting Friday."