December 3, 2012

Roll Tide or an Irish return to glory?

That's to be determined on Jan. 7, but it's a given that college football's best two teams will clash in Miami.

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - On one side, a blossoming dynasty from the college football capital of the Deep South. On the other, the sport's most famous team, trying to reclaim its place among the elite.

Notre Dame and Alabama bring star power and power football to the BCS championship.

"The tradition of Alabama and Notre Dame brings special attention to it, but we're just trying to the best team on Monday, Jan. 7," Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly said Sunday night. "All of that tradition, what's happened in the past, is not going to help us Jan. 7, but we do respect the traditions."

The Irish clinched their spot a week ago in Los Angeles by completing a perfect season against rival Southern California.

Alabama earned its spot Saturday, beating Georgia 32-28 in a thrilling Southeastern Conference title game.

Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are on the verge of one of the great runs in history. Alabama would become the first team to repeat as champs since the BCS was implemented in 1998, and it would be the 11th time a team has won consecutive AP titles since the poll started in 1936.

Alabama is already one of seven programs to repeat. The Tide has done it twice. Notre Dame is another.

Alabama also won the 2009 BCS championship under Saban. The last team to win three major national titles in four seasons was Nebraska, which went back-to-back in 1994 and '95 and finished No. 1 in the final coaches' poll in 1997.

The Tide put its no-frills muscle on display Saturday, mashing Georgia with 350 yards rushing.

Eddie Lacy, listed at a conservative 220 pounds, went for 181 against the Bulldogs to up his season total to 1,182 with 17 touchdowns. Freshman T.J. Yeldon has run for 1,000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.

Both backs average over 6 yards per carry, and quarterback AJ McCarron has thrown for 26 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

The Tide has been more potent offensively this season than last to make up for a defense that has slipped, but only a bit. Alabama leads the nation in total defense (246 yards per game) and is second in points allowed (10.7 per game).

When Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame three years ago, he looked at Alabama and the SEC, which has won six straight BCS titles, and decided the Irish needed to play like that.

Kelly built his reputation and winning teams at previous stops on fast-paced spread offenses. In South Bend, Ind., he has put the fight back in the Irish, who have won eight AP national titles -- only Alabama has as many -- but none since 1988.

Notre Dame has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the country (10) and is sixth overall in total defense (286 yards per game).

"It's clear that the formation of any great program is going to be on its defense," Kelly said.

The face of the Irish isn't a strong-armed quarterback or speedy ball carrier. It's middle linebacker Manti Te'o, a 255-pound offense wrecker with a nose for the ball. The senior has seven interceptions and is a likely Heisman finalist.

While nurturing redshirt freshman Everett Golson, Kelly has leaned on Notre Dame's running game, which averages 202 yards.

"This is just a good all-around football team with tremendous balance on offense and a very physical defense," Saban said.

If Notre Dame, making its first appearance in a BCS championship, is going to break the SEC's strangle hold on the crystal ball trophy, the Irish will try to beat 'Bama at its own game.

And Kelly will try to uphold a Notre Dame tradition, by winning a national title in his third season as coach. F

rank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won it all in Year 3 playing in the shadow of the Golden Dome.

Roll Tide or return to glory? To be determined in South Florida.

 

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