From a strictly historical perspective, a national title showdown really can't get any better than Notre Dame vs. Alabama.
These two programs are among the most successful, and most revered, in all of college football. In truth, they are probably both among the most hated, too.
The Irish and the Crimson Tide have won pretty much everything: They've won national titles and Heisman trophies and bowl games galore. They have been coached by some of the greatest to ever walk the sidelines--men with names like Bryant and Leahy and Rockne and Parseghian and, yes, Saban. For all of their success, they have taken on a regional important that transcends the borders of South Bend and Tuscaloosa; fair or not, the Irish have become symbolic of football in the North, while the Tide have carried the torch for the South.
And now, of course, these two college football titans are going to meet on the biggest and grandest stage of all: The BCS National Championship Game.
The Tide enter the game as big favorites--and, given their remarkable success under Nick Saban of late, that's hardly a surprise--but more than one so-called expert (including Yours Truly, it must be said) have proclaimed the Irish to be more than capable of pulling the upset. This is a good Irish team. A very good one, actually. So those expecting another easy SEC title game win had better prepare for a surprise.
We'll take a look at this sure-to-be-thrilling matchup here, in Part I of our 2012-2013 BCS National Championship Preview.
THE GAME: BCS National Championship Game
THE DETAILS: 8:30 p.m., January 7 at Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fla.
THE MATCH-UP: No. 1 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 2 Notre Dame (12-0)
THE COACHES: Alabama's Nick Saban has a career college coaching record of 153-55-1, including a 62-13 record in six seasons at Alabama. He's won two national titles with the Tide. He previously served as head coach at LSU, where he went 48-16 and won one national title, Michigan State and Toledo. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly has a 199-66-2 college record, including a 28-10 record in three seasons with the Irish. He previously ran the show at Cincinnati, where he went 34-6 in four seasons and won two Big East championships, Central Michigan and Grand Valley State. At Division II Grand Valley State, Kelly was enormously successful, going 118-35-2 and winning two national titles.
PLAYERS TO WATCH - NOTRE DAME: The Irish are led by Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o, an athletic, intelligent middle linebacker who keys a formidable Notre Dame defense. That unit finished first in the nation is points-against, as it has given up just 10.3 points per game. Over on offense, the key guys are quarterback Everett Golson, a run-pass threat who threw for 2,135 yards and 11 touchdowns, and senior tailback Theo Riddick, who can hurt defenses both on the ground and as a receiver. The Irish will count on Riddick to keep the 'Bama defense guessing. But that's easier said than done.
PLAYERS TO WATCH - ALABAMA: Junior quarterback AJ McCarron emerged this season as a steadying force and a pretty darn good quarterback, too. McCarron finished the year with 2,669 passing yards and 26 touchdowns; he threw just three interceptions and, in many ways, is the quintessential Saban quarterback. This guy may not wow the NFL scouts, but he'll manage a game and avoid mistakes. McCarron's task is made significantly easier thanks to the contributions of his two outstanding tailbacks: Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon both rushed for 1,000 yards this year and the one-two punch they provide poses a real problem for opposing defenses. Just when opponents get used to Lacy's bruising style, in comes Yeldon, who brings nearly as much physicality along with a dose of pure Southern speed.
NEXT: Key matchups, big questions, and my prediction.