Alabama Football: Under-the-Radar Players Who Must Step Up vs. Notre Dame

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Alabama Football: Under-the-Radar Players Who Must Step Up vs. Notre Dame
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Alabama running back Eddie Lacy has some of the strongest shoulders in college football, but even he can't carry the Crimson Tide to a second-consecutive championship by himself. 

If Alabama is to complete its BCS title defense against the top-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Miami on Jan. 7, it'll need some under-the-radar players to step up at key times. Whether it's on offense, defense or special teams, these players must contribute for the reigning champions vs. Notre Dame. 

Let's take a look at underrated Crimson Tide players whom Nick Saban will be calling on one last time this winter. 

 

Nico Johnson, LB

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Senior linebacker Nico Johnson is Alabama's third-leading tackler this season, and has played in all 13 games for Kirby Smart's defense. 

Although Johnson may not be as talented or popular as fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley, trust me when I say that his presence is key for the Crimson Tide's chances of repeating this time around against Notre Dame. 

Johnson has 54 tackles this season, including two tackles for a loss, and has forced two fumbles as well. The 6'3" stud will need to be at his best this coming January, wreaking havoc in the middle of Alabama's defense and making sure tackles on Notre Dame's running backs and wide receivers.

No. 35 may often fly under the radar, but in the BCS National Championship Game, the Crimson Tide will rely on him to help anchor the nation's second-best scoring defense. 

 

Kevin Norwood, WR

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Like Alabama, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish boast one of the nation's top rush defenses, meaning that the Crimson Tide will need to have at least some success through the air this January in order to repeat as national champions.

That's where junior wideout Kevin Norwood comes in. With the Tide's second-leading receiver, Kenny Bell, out with a broken leg, Norwood will need to step up for Alabama, providing a reliable target opposite of Amari Cooper for quarterback A.J. McCarron.

Norwood has 26 receptions for 395 yards and four touchdowns this season and is averaging a tad over 15 yards per catch. 

The 6'2" Mississippi native also has some key championship experience, having caught four balls for 78 yards in last January's title win over LSU.  

 

Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, CB

Despite how his names sounds, there's no laughing at Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix's game. The sophomore defensive back has three interceptions to go along with 30 tackles and a forced fumble in 13 games this season.

At 6'1", 209 pounds, Clinton-Dix has all the physical attributes to make a difference for Alabama's sixth-ranked secondary.

He can play bigger wide receivers, and he can change the game on single play, as most fans saw late in the first half of Alabama's 32-28 win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. 

Clinton Dix, No. 6 for the Crimson Tide's defense, has intercepted a pass in each of Alabama's last two games against Georgia and Auburn. But it remains to be seen whether he'll continue his streak this winter against Notre Dame. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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