NOTRE DAME — After four years of traveling courtesy of Notre Dame’s road schedule, Manti Te’o has become something of a cross-country foodie.
While many of his teammates look forward to playing on the road because they thrive in hostile environments or because they love silencing opposing crowds, Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker loves away games for more culinary reasons.
“I like playing away because I like tasting the different food,” he said during a Wednesday evening media session. “Everybody makes their prime rib a little different.”
The best prime rib? Te’o says Oklahoma takes the crown, while Michigan State has the best ranch, Te’o said, spinning around in his seat for a second opinion.
“Braxston!” he yelled back at teammate Braxston Cave. “Michigan State’s ranch?”
The Irish center didn’t hesitate: “The best.”
Te’o turned back around, grinning.
“I told you,” he said. “I told you their ranch is the best.”
Delicious food aside, the Irish have played their best football away from Notre Dame Stadium this year. Against Navy (played in Dublin, Ireland), Michigan State, Miami (played in Chicago) and Oklahoma, Notre Dame scored an average of 35.3 points while allowing only 7.25 points from opponents.
At home, Notre Dame hasn’t beaten a team by more than seven points all year. The Irish squeaked by Purdue, BYU and Pitt by three points each. Games against Stanford and Pitt were forced into overtime.
There’s no science to it. Te’o and fellow linebacker Dan Fox say the Irish adopt an “us against them” mentality on the road that bands the team together.
“I kind of like that underdog mentality when you go in someone else’s house, and they’re just booing you when you jog out and make remarks about my hair and things like that,” Fox said. “It’s kind of fun to quiet the crowd a little bit.”
The trash talk from opposing crowds is common, Fox said, and it takes a bit of getting used to. Fox said an away game atmosphere is emotional for young players to handle and that he had to train himself to manage the game and handle his own emotions.
“The more you play, the more you come back to different places like Michigan State or Stanford,” Fox said. “It’s something you get used to.”
While he’ll get comments on his long hair, Te’o will hear smack talk about his beloved home state.
“I hear comments about Hawaii and how it’s not a state and I’m like ‘What?’” Te’o said. “I laugh at it, like, you just insulted yourself saying Hawaii isn’t a state.”
Both linebackers said that the worst trash talk they’ve heard isn’t appropriate to repeat.
Like Fox, Te’o understands the need for team unity in hostile environments.
“We understand the terrain,” he said. “We’re not in friendly environments. You understand that all you have is each other. I guess with our team, we come together more.”
So when Notre Dame travels to Chestnut Hills, Mass., this weekend to take on rival Boston College, Te’o and Fox know what to expect from Eagles fans. They also know that Boston College has a knack of ruining Notre Dame’s national championship hopes.
“I’ve heard about Boston College and how we need to win this game,” Te’o said. “I look at it, yeah, I need to win this game because i want to be 10-0. I don’t understand all the history about it. I know we’ve had some good battles with BC but I don’t totally understand the history.”
The Eagles are in free fall at 2-7 with a coach walking toward the chopping block. Boston College fans hope that the Eagles can replicate the upset Pitt nearly pulled off last weekend.
Te’o probably just hopes the clam chowder is good.