Controversy usually follows the BCS around, but this year, the 2013 BCS Championship Game is going to be all about the hype and not about what happened with the computers.
Notre Dame has earned its shot in this game by putting together a 12-0 season that included wins over Stanford and at Oklahoma. The Fighting Irish are back in the spotlight for the first time since 2007, when they got blown out by LSU in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama and Georgia are battling it out for the right to play Notre Dame in a de facto playoff game that will also decide the SEC champion. Both teams are built around fantastic defenses, though Georgia has a more balanced and explosive offensive attack.
Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fl
When: Monday, Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Notre Dame's Keys to Victory
Use Everett Golson's athleticism to create plays down the field; Finish on defense
What Notre Dame lacks in consistency on offense, it makes up for with big-play ability. The Fighting Irish have three running backs who have a season-long run of at least 55 yards. They have six wide receivers with at least one reception of 30 yards.
Quarterback Everett Golson's maturation process this season has paralleled what the Irish have done. He started out as a turnover machine, but quickly grew into a solid pocket passer who was still capable of making plays with his legs.
Golson needs to be able to keep plays alive, even when the pocket breaks down, against whichever defense he plays if the Irish want to win the national championship. This offense needs those big plays to survive against a team like Alabama or Georgia.
For the defense, it is all about continuing to do what they have done all year. Everyone will talk about that goal-line stand against USC in the regular season finale, but don't forget, they also had one against Stanford that saved them from overtime.
Manti Te'o leads the charge for that front seven, and he has earned his title as the best defensive player in America right now. The Irish need to wrap up, finish tackles and be opportunistic when attacking the ball and forcing turnovers.
The Irish finished tied for 14th in the country in interceptions (16) and 17th in sacks (33). They will need to bring their best against one of the two SEC powerhouses.
Is It Going To Be Alabama or Georgia?
While keeping things vague up to this point, offering a prediction for the SEC Championship Game seems paramount to getting the discussion moving forward.
Alabama has the best coach and more all-around depth than anyone else in the country. Nick Saban does a remarkable job of rotating young players and upper classmen in and out so that everyone understands their roles and never gets overwhelmed by the stage.
For years, Georgia had been an underachieving team with a head coach always on the hot seat. The development of Aaron Murray at quarterback, as well as a very good defense, have put this program on the verge of its first appearance in the BCS Championship Game.
So which team do you side with?
It has to be Alabama, doesn't it? I mean, when you really look at the bodies of work, not to mention the history of the Crimson Tide, you can't bet against them in this spot. They played a terrible first half against Texas A&M, which had the best playmaking quarterback in the country this season, yet still had a chance to win at the end before an A.J. McCarron interception in the end zone late sealed it.
Georgia has a shiny 11-1 record, but when you really dissect its overall performance, it doesn't look so great. The Bulldogs' vaunted defense gave up at least 20 points six times, though to be fair, some of those came in garbage time against lesser opponents.
The Bulldogs played just two teams that rank in the Top 25 prior to the SEC Championship Game, South Carolina and Florida. They used a dominating defensive effort, which included six turnovers, to beat the Gators.
But that 35-7 loss against South Carolina really stands out. The Bulldogs mustered just 224 yards of total offense in that game. Murray was 11-of-31 passing with just 109 yards and one interception.
That loss gave the Crimson Tide the blueprint they needed to defeat Georgia, whereas the Bulldogs don't have an offensive playmaker like Johnny Manziel to attack Alabama's top-ranked defense.
Alabama's Keys to Victory
Break the Notre Dame wall up front; Make Golson uncomfortable
Alabama needs to study the tape of the Pittsburgh game against Notre Dame. The Panthers were able to run on the Irish defense like no one else this season. Ray Graham looked like the best running back in the country against them.
Saban is a master manipulator. He creates scenarios on the field that put his team in the best spot to make plays. Their bread and butter on offense is the running game, led by Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, who both average more than six yards per carry and have 24 combined touchdowns.
If you want to make Notre Dame vulnerable, you have to hit the teeth of that defense, which is the front seven. Alabama has the backs and big offensive line to overpower anyone in the country.
We mentioned Golson's early-season turnover problems. His progress has been a direct result of being more comfortable and having time to throw in the pocket, giving him the freedom to do whatever he wants.
The Crimson Tide have to be in Golson's face all game long, forcing him to make poor decisions and leaving the ball away from his body so they can swipe it. In a game between two defenses this good, the difference is going to be that one big turnover that sets the offense up in enemy territory.
Final Score Prediction
While there are Notre Dame haters out there who want to dismiss its season just for the sake of trolling, you can't overlook what this program has done.
Brian Kelly has done an outstanding job of getting the talent that was in place before he arrived to play up to expectations, as well as coaching the young players he has brought in up faster than anyone could have anticipated.
Alabama is the big bully on the block that has to be knocked down before you know how it will respond. Saban understands big-game situations better than most coaches in any sport. He will have his team ready for a fight.
Ultimately, I just think Alabama has more talent top to bottom. Notre Dame's defense will keep the game close, but there isn't enough on offense against the Crimson Tide defense to put them over the top.
Alabama 17, Notre Dame 13
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