by Frank Martin
1. Two of the most storied programs in college football history will square off for the national championship when undefeated and top-ranked Notre Dame collides with No. 2 and reigning champion Alabama on Jan. 7 at Miami's Sun Life Stadium. Despite its unrivaled tradition, Notre Dame has not won a national title since 1988 and has not been atop the rankings since 1993. Alabama Crimson Tide, meanwhile, will be chasing its third national championship in the past four years under Nick Saban, who has restored the luster to one of the few programs that can stand up to Notre Dame's legacy. The teams have met six times, with the Fighting Irish winning five.
2. Notre Dame entered the season as an afterthought but slowly climbed up the rankings behind a bruising defense - led by standout linebacker Manti Te'o - that smothered one opponent after another. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish allowed a nation-low 10.3 points per game and withstood a number of close calls as its offense continued to evolve. Notre Dame's formula was similar to the one that brought two championships to Alabama and third-year coach Brian Kelly readily admits he used the Crimson Tide's style of play as a blueprint to get the Irish back into the national picture.
3. There's something to be said for been there, done that, and Alabama's recent experience on the biggest stage cannot be overlook. Never was that more apparent than in last season's BCS championship game, when the Crimson Tide avenged their only regular season loss with a dominating defensive effort in a 21-0 victory over LSU. And while Notre Dame always plays a schedule dotted with top programs, Alabama is part of college football's best conference in the SEC, which, by the way, has won all six BCS title games since its inception in 2006.
4. The Fighting Irish have been utilizing the no-respect card as a motivator throughout the season, and the oddsmakers provided them with more fuel by installing the one-loss Crimson Tide as a 10-point favorite. Notre Dame played perhaps its best game in a 30-13 rout at Oklahoma on Oct. 27 - another contest in which it was a huge underdog and the consensus was that the Irish could not compete.
5. Few would argue that Kelly has done the best coaching job in the country this season in compiling his second 12-0 regular season in four years (the previous one was at Cincinnati in 2009). But Saban is looked upon as a modern-day Bear Bryant in Tuscaloosa, not only winning two national titles with Alabama but claiming one at LSU in 2003. There have been whispers that Saban could be NFL-bound after the season, but he has steadfastly denied the rumors.
Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1, 7-1 SEC): The Crimson Tide will be happy to match muscle vs. muscle with Notre Dame's defense behind a powerhouse offensive line that averages 315 pounds per man. Alabama has a pair of 1,000-yard backs in junior Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon, who combined for 27 touchdowns and piled up 334 yards in the SEC title game win over Georgia. Quarterback AJ McCarron threw for 26 touchdowns against only three interceptions and showed he was much more than a caretaker of the offense by leading late drives to beat LSU and Georgia. His top weapon is Amari Cooper, who has 53 receptions and nine touchdowns. Notre Dame's defense has been getting all the publicity, but the Crimson Tide have their own elite linebacker in C.J. Mosley and held 10 opponents to less than 14 points while recording four shutouts.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0): Te'o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, is the heart and soul of a defense that permitted only nine touchdowns overall and two on the ground. He has seven interceptions and played behind a stellar defensive front featuring ends Stephon Tuitt (12 sacks) and Kapron Lewis-Moore sandwiching the massive Louis Nix II
c.j. mosley - eddie lacy - aj mccarron - alabama crimson tide - amari cooper - brian kelly - kapron lewis-moore - manti teo - nick saban - notre dame fighting irish