No. 1 Colorado is hoping for a little breathing room when they take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

Colorado coach Bill McCartney has been checking out scientific studies while preparing for what he hopes won't be a repeat of last year's Orange Bowl outcome. Last year, Colorado's national title hopes vanished with Notre Dame's 21-6 victory.This time around, McCartney has had his medical staff read up on the effects of traveling from the near mile-high (5,200 feet) altitude of Boulder to Miami's sea level climes.

"After breathing the thin air, then you come here and there's more air than you know what to do with," McCartney said. "It gives you a strong advantage."

McCartney also acknowledged that the advantage reportedly wears off over time, prompting queries as to why he chose to arrive last Friday - 12 days before the game and four days before Notre Dame.

The early arrival, he explained, was due to other factors.

"It was finals week so we would have to practice at night," he said. "Also we couldn't accomplish anything at home in those kind of conditions (snow) because we don't have an indoor facility. We needed the work."

McCartney gave his players Christmas and today off. Notre Dame players were scheduled to arrive individually Tuesday.

Studies conducted by respected pulmonary and physiological experts were culled for a final, 21/2-page report prepared for McCartney.

"You're used to functioning on less oxygen so the short-term effects improve your metabolic performance," said Dr. Wayne Gersoff, the team's orthopaedic surgeon. Gersoff and team trainer Dave Burton put together the report.

"But after 7 to 10 days here," gersoff said, "the benefits of high altitude training diminish."

Retaining optimum lung capacity, Burton added, depends on keeping players well-hydrated while adding extensive aerobic conditioning to the usual routine, followed by rest.

"It's important to get that extra hour of sleep," Burton said. "And lots of rehydration."

Joe Garten, Colorado's 6-3, 280-pound senior offensive guard and Outland Trophy runner-up, said he sweats a lot more here, but it's easier to breathe. Christmas Eve, while most of his teammates celebrated at a local dog track, Garten stayed at the hotel, looking to save strength.

"If we get enough rest we could have an edge," Garten said. "But if we're out playing around and not resting it will work to our disadvantage."

Some players shrug off the altitude.

"It's supposed to help us but I don't feel any different except for the humidity," said wingback Michael Simmons."