NOTRE DAME -

Despite a cloud of controversy over the Irish football team due to academic misconduct, there is a lot of excitement about today's season home opener.

Notre Dame won't be at full strength when it opens the season against Rice and might not be all season.

It marks the second straight season the Irish are being hampered by academic problems. A year after starting quarterback Everett Golson missed the season because of academic impropriety, five players are being held out indefinitely while the university investigates whether they received improper help on homework and papers. That includes three starters, two on defense.

Rice is coming off a 10-4 season where the Owls won their first outright conference title in 57 years and are expected to challenge in Conference USA again. Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson said the team isn't awed by Notre Dame, and the Owls are looking to make a statement against the Irish.

Despite the controversy, fans say they ready to rally around the Irish.

Kick off is at 3:30 this afternoon, but tailgaters are already out at the Notre Dame stadium having a good time.

Fans say they hate to rush the summer, but they love their football. Many groups were up as early as 5:30 this morning getting prepared for the game and tailgating.

For more on parking and traffic, click here: http://gameday.nd.edu/campus/parking/

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What's the plan for severe weather?

If you're headed to the Notre Dame-Rice game this afternoon the University wants to make sure you know their evacuation plan in case severe weather interrupts the game.

If lightning strikes within 10-miles of the stadium, if it starts to hail, or if tornado sirens were to ever go, off Notre Dame security staff will start escorting people out of the stadium and to covered shelter.

About 50,000 people will be able to stay in the concourses, under the stands. The other 30,000 or so will have to go into a nearby campus building.

This has only happened twice in the history of Notre Dame football games. Both of them during the Labor Day weekend game against South Florida in 2011.

The University says it trains its staff on the evacuation plan all season.

"The biggest criteria for us, minus a tornado warning or something extremely severe, is lightning. We're very sensitive to that and where it is in relationship to campus," Mike Seamon, the director of game day operations says.

Fans are asked to carry their rain gear -- ponchos, umbrellas -- with them when they come into the stadium.

To help stay on top of the latest weather developments:

Check out our interactive radar: http://www.wsbt.com/weather

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