Irish-Bama is a classic title game matchup
Notre Dame against Alabama and playing for the national championship is a dream game for the BCS and ESPN. Because of the matchup ESPN expects huge television ratings.
In just two days, the Fighting Irish (12-0) will concludie a magical year by playing for their first national title chance since 1988. It has truly been a magical year as the Irish began the season unranked and picked by most, including this writer, to finish no better than 7-5.
But something special happened. The Irish kept winning, many games were close, some wins required the "luck of the Irish," but any coach who has a team reach the top of the hill in any sport, says luck plays a role somewhere along the way. That was true of ND this season.
Alabama, a nationally known college football factory, has a big following all across America, just like ND. So how fitting it is for the national title game to involve the reborn Notre Dame football program to face off against the 12-1 Crimison Tide, seeking a third title in four years.
Alabama will be a tough test for the Irish. The Tide is the number one defensive team in the country. That is a real test for ND, since the Irish offense has struggled at times, and at times played up tempo and ranked with the best. The challenge for Brian Kelly and his staff is to have quarterback Everett Golson ready and the offense play that up tempo attack it showed glimpses of during the regular season.
Alabama has rolled to wins over Michigan, Western Kentucky, Arkansas, Florida Atlantic, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU, Western Carolina and Auburn. The lone regular season loss was to Texas A&M, 29-24. The Tide then beat Georgia in the SEC title game, 32-28.
The Tide likes to run the football first and team stats show that Eddie Lacy is the top runningback and has 1,215 yards on 184 carries and has scored 16 touchdowns. But, when forced to pass, quarterback AJ McCarron has one of the best pass completion percentages in the country. He has completed 191 of 286 passes for 2,669 yards and 26 TDs. Top receivers are Amari Cooper with 53 catches for 895 yards and nine scores; Kevin Norwood, 26-395-4; and Christon Jones, 25-328-4. Leading a very tough defense is C.J. Mosely with 99 tackles followed by Trey Depriest with 56.
The game features two schools that have wide recognition for their football programs and two teams that are apart from the norm. Rather than the wide-open style of college football today, both like to run the ball and play the old-style "smash-mouth" football.
ND leads the series 5-1. The first time ND and Alabama played was the 1973 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, won by the Irish, 24-23, which led to a national title. The other Irish wins were in 1974, 13-11; 1976, 21-18; 1980, 7-0; and 1987, 37-6. The lone loss was in 1986, 28-10. Legendary Tide coach Bear Bryant never beat the Irish.
The game will be televised by ESPN with a 8:30 p.m. kickoff.
IRISH NOTES ... Manti Te'o had quite a month in December collecting all the top defensive awards and finishing second in the Heisman voting. He won the Dick Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker and the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player....Catching up on some other personnel matters since the USC game. Junior nose guard Louis Nix and starting left offensive tackle Zack Martin, both announced they will not enter the NFL draft in April and return to ND for another year. Nix actually has two years of eligibility left....Sophomore WR DaVaris Daniels has come back from a broken collarbone suffered in the Boston College game on Nov. 10 and will play Monday night....True freshman offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley underwent elbow surgery and will not be able to play. Since he played in less than 30 percent of ND games, he will be eligible for a redshirt for this season, meaning he won't lose a year of eligibility. Sophomore center Matt Hegarty underwent surgery for an undisclosed injury and won't be available for the game. He is a candidate for starting center next season. With the loss of Hegarty and Stanley, the Irish are very thin on the offensive line....Head coach Brian Kelly admitted that the extra practice time in preparation for the title game should be a plus for Golson. Kelly said, "I think in this preparation sometimes you have to be careful that when you're practicing, you don't slip up and start to create bad habits." He said the offensive coaching staff will keep a close watch so that won't happen with Golson....If ND's defense hopes to live up to its reputation from the regular season, the Irish defensive secondary will have to play well under a lot of pressure. ND's defense is strong against the run, something Alabama likes to do. If ND stops the Tide's run game then it will have to pass. Tide QB McCarron is the real thing, so the Irish pass defense will be tested and that might be the key to a win or a loss. ND is ranked 13th nationally in pass-efficiency defense. The ND pass defense did hold two very potent passing teams, Oklahoma and USC, to 13 points each. In fact Oklahoma finished fifth nationally in passing offense, USC was 26th....Alabama is ranked 84th in passing yardage at 214 per game.....A number of ND players showed their unity this season by growing beards. Now into January the beards are becoming pretty lengthy....Kelly won another coach of the year award this week. He was named top college coach by the Walter Camp Foundation. That goes along with the AP award....ND added another top running back to his 2013 recruits. Tarean Folston, of Cocoa, Fla., committed to the Irish this week. He is 5-9 and 190 and ran for 1,722 yards and 16 TDs this season. He is ranked the ninth best running back in the country by Rivals.com. He will join fellow Florida runningback Greg Bryant as ND backfield recruits next season. Bryant is ranked the second best in the country....ND is a decided underdog for Monday's title game. The "bookies" have Alabama favored by 10 points. That is a lot considering this is a game between the number one and two ranked teams. The Irish defensive front will have to play its best game, not only in stopping the run, but also putting pressure on the Tide's QB. Up front ND and the Tide are equal in size. The difference will be if Golson and company play a flawless game, no turnovers, etc. A tough choice but the edge is definitely with Alabama.