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Notre Dame v Alabama, BCS National Championship preview

Can the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame hold back Alabama’s Crimson Tide to claim college football’s BCS National Championship?

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly (left) and Alabama head coach Nick Saban pose with The Coaches' Trophy ahead of Monday's BCS National Championship game.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly (left) and Alabama head coach Nick Saban pose with The Coaches' Trophy ahead of Monday's BCS National Championship game.
Image: John Bazemore/AP/Press Association Images

IT SEEMS LIKE just yesterday when Notre Dame kicked off their 2012 NCAA football campaign with a convincing 50-10 win over bitter rivals Navy in Dublin.

Since then, the Fighting Irish have enjoyed victories over no less than four top-25 teams – Michigan, Stanford, Michigan State and Oklahoma – on their way to finishing the season as the number one ranked team in college football.

In doing so, they became the first team in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era to play for the national championship after starting the season unranked.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the team from South Bend, Indiana. They needed overtime to get past eighth-ranked Stanford in October before a remarkable game against Pittsburgh in November saw them make up a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 29-26 after three periods of overtime.

YouTube Credit: NotreDameAthletics

Scoring just 26.8 points per game (ranked 74th nationally), the Irish have relied heavily on their defence. Led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s 10.3 points per game (ppg) allowed was the fewest in college football.

The linebacker may have been overlooked for the sport’s biggest individual prize but he did lead his team in tackles (103) and his seven interceptions were enough to finish second nationally in that particular statistic in 2012.

On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame have been balanced if not spectacular this season. They average 202.5 yards per game (ypg) on the ground and 218.8 ypg through the air.

Second year quarterback Everett Golsen has been supported by a trio of quality ball carriers in Theo Riddick (880 yards, 5 TDs), Cierre Wood (740 yards, 4 TDs) and George Atkinson III (361 yards, 5 TDs), not to mention NFL-bound tight end Tyler Eifert’s 44 receptions for 624 yards and four touchdowns.

Underdogs

However, despite having 11 national titles to their name, Notre Dame will go into the game as 9.5 point underdogs against an Alabama outfit looking to win back-to-back national titles.

The Crimson Tide can count themselves lucky to be in the game at all following a 29-24 loss to Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa in November.

However, they held their nerve when all around them faltered towards the end of the season and beat Georgia in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship game when both sides knew a victory would be enough to secure a tilt at the national title.

YouTube Credit: SECDigitalNetwork

Like Notre Dame, Alabama’s success is due mainly to their defence. Their 10.7 ppg allowed was second only to the Irish this year but ‘Bama also rank first in run defence (79.8 ypg) and total defence (246 ypg) as well as fourth in pass defence (166.2 ypg).

While the Alabama offence doesn’t pose the same threat as it did last year, it is still very effective, especially when it comes to redzone possessions. Nick Saban’s men converted no fewer than 89% of their redzone opportunities this year, including scoring 41 touchdowns in 57 visits.

Junior running backs Eddie Lacy (1,182 yards, 16 TDs) and TJ Yeldon (1,000 yards, 11 TDs) had phenomenal seasons and were helped by an offensive line containing two first-team All-Americans in Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones.

Like Notre Dame, Alabama have a storied history having won 14 national titles while their 59 bowl appearances and 33 victories are both college football benchmarks.

No fairytale finish

Since this match-up was made, Alabama have been consistently two score favourites.

However, the defending champions have been far from convincing at times this season and were very lucky to escape with a victory over LSU in November before their loss to Johnny Football’s Texas A&M a week later, while Gerogia also ran them quite close in SEC Championship game.

Like Notre Dame, they have also beaten four ranked opponents but, whereas this will be the Irish’s first appearance in a national title game in 25 years, Alabama won it all just 12 months ago.

While it is unlikely to be a repeat of 2012′s 21-0 blowout, especially with two marquee defences on show, it’s difficult to see how Notre Dame can outscore Alabama.

It’s been a great year for the Fighting Irish, but it’s unlikely to end with a fairytale finish.

VIDEO: Notre Dame and Alabama season highlights

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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