The other Notre Dame program with realistic designs on a national championship — the women's basketball team — visits the Sun Dome tonight.
For the University of South Florida Bulls, there's a more immediate goal. If the Bulls (11-2) can upset the No. 2-ranked Fighting Irish (12-1) in the Big East Conference opener, it would be the biggest victory in USF women's basketball history.
"It's a great challenge,'' USF coach Jose Fernandez said. "But with great challenges comes great opportunities.''
Fernandez, hoping to drum up fan support, handed out pizzas around campus Monday on the first day of winter classes.
Notre Dame leads the series 8-2. USF hasn't won since Jan. 13, 2007, when the Bulls prevailed 87-78 in overtime at the Sun Dome. USF's other win also was in overtime, 68-64 at Notre Dame in 2006.
The Irish come in on a major high, having won at No. 1-ranked Connecticut 73-72 on Saturday.
"I watched it,'' USF senior guard Andrell Smith said. "They will come in here looking to do some damage. But we're looking to do some damage, too.
"I think we're capable of being a contender in the Big East. It's a long season, but I'm not going to lie. It would be great to be 1-0 in the league.''
For that to happen, USF must get good play from its perimeter game, twins Andrell (17.1 points) and Andrea Smith (16.5), plus zone-busting outside shooter Inga Orekhova (11.9).
Notre Dame, coached by Muffet McGraw, is second nationally in scoring at 85.2 points per game and forces 23.5 turnovers. The Irish's only loss was against Baylor, which rose to the nation's No. 1 ranking on Monday.
The Irish have a dynamic leader in senior guard Skylar Diggins (14.8 points, 5.9 assists), but also get big contributions from junior guard Kayla McBride (15.7) and junior forward Natalie Achonwa (14.1 points, 9.4 rebounds).
"Notre Dame just beat UConn and we've had more time to rest and prepare, but you can throw all those things out,'' Fernandez said. "They've got Skylar to show the way and a Hall of Fame coach. That's why you love the Big East. You get to compete against the best players and the best coaches.''