Notre Dame Vs. Alabama
Year after year the BCS is criticized. The elements, process and the formula are ripped publicly time and time again. But once again the BCS has the two most deserving teams playing for the national championship. Anyone who argues that only has to wait until the 2014 postseason for something else to create a national title game. That's when the four team playoff will start determining who the best team in the country is. This year it's Alabama and Notre Dame. Two storied programs with a combined 25 claimed national championships, just one crystal ball to be handed out.
Iconic sports broadcaster Howard Cosell said in 1973: "This is the dream matchup: Notre Dame-Alabama. At Notre Dame, football is a religion. At Alabama, it is a way of life." That was 39 years ago. Things are still the same.
What We've Learned
Coming off a national championship, Alabama and head coach Nick Saban were still hungry. Despite losing a great deal of talent to the NFL, the Tide defense was still among the best in the nation. Saban and company basically sleepwalked through the first eight games of the season. Their closest contest in those games was a 33-14 win over Ole Miss, but the game was not as close as the score depicted. After an 8-0 start, Alabama began to look like a team of human beings rather than machines who week in and week out dominated opponents. They narrowly escaped Death Valley in week nine with a win. Then came their first and only loss. Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M exposed holes in the Tide defense and handed Alabama their first loss since November of 2011. The Tide represented the SEC West In the conference title game. Thanks to poor clock management by the Georgia Bulldogs, the Tide won and earned their second straight bid to the BCS title game.
Notre Dame started much different than Alabama. The Irish weren't even ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 in the preseason! They were barely on the radar for most college football fans on the heels of back-to-back 8-5 seasons. Their road to Miami was much less dominant than Alabama's. The Fighting Irish had margins of victory of 3, 7, 3, 3 and 3 points in their closest games. Two of those took overtime including a triple overtime thriller against Pittsburgh in early November. It wasn't always pretty. But they found a way to win…every game.
Matchups To Watch
Alabama and Notre Dame have the two best scoring defenses in the country. The Tide have allowed the fewest yards per game (246.0) and fewest plays that have gained 10 yards or more (105). But from the LSU game on, you could see it wasn't the 2011 Alabama defense. Some called that unit the best to ever play college football. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who struggled most of the year, passed for just under 300 yards and a score. A week later, the Aggies' Johnny Football posted similar numbers. Just three weeks later in the SEC championship game Aaron Murray exploited more of the same flaws, passing for 265 yards and a touchdown. At times, they weren't exceptional, especially later in the season. They'll face a Notre Dame offense that hasn't been exactly explosive. Quarterback Everett Golson has improved but he'll, without question, face the strongest defense he's seen yet. The Irish have a decent pair of running backs, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, who have combined for 1,620 yards. If the ground game doesn't work, Notre Dame could be in for a long night. Golson and the Irish offense rank 75th nationally in passer efficiency. Even with Alabama showing some weaknesses toward the back end of the season, they're in no way soft or easily passed on. Notre Dame will have to be near perfect on offense and hope a score or two will be enough. Scores will be hard to come by Jan. 7 with Alabama's defense on the field.
Known mostly for their defense, Alabama's offense was what opened a lot of eyes this year. McCarron threw 26 touchdowns to just three, yes only three, interceptions. Their one-two punch at running back was hard to stop as Louisiana native Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon each rushed for at least 1,000 yards a piece. The pair combined for 27 rushing touchdowns. With the nations top ranked defense, most efficient quarterback and a ground game that has been unstoppable at times, Alabama is tough to beat.
Like Alabama, Notre Dame has a defense worth talking about too. Against the run, they are stingy allowing just two rushing touchdowns all year. That's seven less than Alabama. Led by Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o, Notre Dame's defense has given up just 9 touchdowns in 12 games. That will give you a good chance to win. To have that chance to win against Alabama, Te'o will have to be exceptional at stopping the Tide's run game. But of course, he won't be able to do it alone. Te'o will get all the hype, but he'll need help. A lot of it.
Alabama's been in this spot before. They are going for their second straight national championship. It would be the schools third since 2009. Nick Saban will be coaching in his fourth game for all the marbles. Nothing about this will be new for the Tide.
That's not the case for Notre Dame. They've not exactly been on top of the college football world since the BCS started in 1998. And it was 10 years before then, 1988, when the school last won a national title. Since the 1994 season, the school has played in 12 bowl games. They've won just two of them. Irish head coach Brian Kelly is in his third season with the team and will be coaching in his first national championship game. If experience is a factor, Alabama has the upper hand by far.
What They're Saying
"Anytime you get an opportunity to play for a national championship, you relish that opportunity, and certainly the Discover BCS Championship hosted by the Orange Bowl is probably one of the best venues, if not the best venue, to have this matchup. So on behalf of our football team, the University of Notre Dame, we are very excited about the opportunity to play in this championship game." - Brian Kelly, Notre Dame head coach
"This is a phenomenal opportunity for our players for both teams, this is sort of a unique matchup I think of two universities that have very storied traditions, and it's great to see these two teams have an opportunity to play in a national championship game; and our team, our players, our coaches and our entire organization is certainly looking forward to the opportunity we have." - Nick Saban, Alabama head coach