10 Matchups We Can't Wait to See in Notre Dame vs. Alabama
In the wake of the backlash about the terrible BCS matchups we have been saddled with this bowl season, there is one game that could set right the whole terrible experience.
The BCS National Championship Game.
In case you have been under a rock and haven't heard, the game features Notre Dame and Alabama, two of the most prestigious, historically relevant programs in college football history.
Alabama has 14 national titles, while Notre Dame has 13. Notre Dame is seeking its first national title since 1988, and Alabama is on the verge of establishing a real dynasty with a third BCS title in the last four seasons.
Talk about a big-time game—this sucker is going to take the cake.
What's funny is that last season, when the two best defenses in the country were preparing to face each other in this game, many of us complained about how boring it would be, yet the same folks are now looking forward to this game as must-see television.
All that aside, this list is about the 10 matchups within this matchup that we are anticipating the most.
This game is layered, like an onion, and features several great players and two excellent coaches squaring off for all the marbles in the biggest game of the BCS era.
Sure, we will watch to see what Georgia, LSU and Florida do to their poor bowl opponents, and we will all pull for underdog Northern Illinois against Florida State for 10 minutes until it is out of the game.
But there is no game this bowl season, or even in the past decade, that will draw as many of us in as this epic clash of the titans, this meeting between hard-hitting, defensive-minded opponents.
These are the matchups that will keep us tuned in.
10. Tyler Eifert vs. Tide Coverage
Tyler Eifert has not quite matched last season's total production this season, but he has made up for it in other ways.
The Irish tight end is averaging 14.2 yards per catch and is one touchdown short of last season's total.
He is going to be key for the Irish to be able to move the ball and stay in this game.
Whether as a blocker or receiver, Eifert is a key piece of the Irish offense, and his size (6'6") can create all kinds of matchup problems for Alabama.
Everett Golson will be looking for Eifert on a regular basis, and how the Tide match up with him will be key to this contest.
9. This Game vs. the Ratings
Let's talk ratings for a minute.
The 2006 Rose Bowl, featuring USC and Texas, pulled the highest ratings in BCS history with a 21.7.
That means that almost one-quarter of all television-equipped households in the U.S. tuned in to watch Vince Young work his magic.
This game is going to beat that one, easily.
It's already being projected to pull in a 25 rating.
When you consider the Irish game against USC pulled in the best ratings for any contest this season, in a game that meant nothing for USC, that's not too hard to believe.
Records will be broken, people, and television history will be made.
8. Crimson Tide Offensive Line vs. Notre Dame Pressure
Barrett Jones and the rest of the Alabama offensive line have been good all season, considering the level of competition they have faced.
The Tide have allowed 23 sacks on the season, an average of 1.77 per game.
They are facing a Notre Dame defense that is the closest thing to an SEC defense not found in the SEC.
Beyond elite-level pass-rusher Stephon Tuitt, the Irish feature talent all along the front seven that will cause problems, even for Alabama's stout offensive line.
Not many anticipate Notre Dame winning this game, as evidenced by the fact that it is anywhere from a seven- to 10-point underdog.
That said, if the Irish defense steps up its game and forces Alabama into 3rd-and-long situations, this pass rush could be the great equalizer.
7. Stephon Tuitt vs. 'Bama Backfield
A.J. McCarron quietly produced an excellent season at the helm of the Tide offense.
As will be discussed later, Alabama's rushing game is stellar and poses two incredibly difficult threats for defenses to slow.
Enter Stephon Tuitt.
Tuitt has 12 sacks on the season and presents all kinds of problems for Alabama's offense.
McCarron will need to get rid of the ball quickly, which he usually does, and the blocking had better be spot-on if the Tide don't want to see plays blown up in the backfield with regularity by Tuitt.
For all the press Notre Dame, as a program, seems to receive, Tuitt does not get nearly enough.
The man is a force.
6. Alabama Kick Returners vs. Notre Dame Kick Coverage
Special teams, an interesting aspect of this game that is getting overlooked, may provide a major boost for the Tide.
Notre Dame allows a miserable 22.44 yards per kickoff return, which puts it at 79th in the nation.
Alabama's Christion Jones has a 99-yard return this season and averages 30.3 yards per return.
This appears to be a recipe for potential disaster for the Irish in a game that will be decided by field position.
5. Everett Golson vs. Tide Pressure
The Irish quarterback situation has been anything but settled this season, with Everett Golson starting and Tommy Rees entering games at random times that Brian Kelly picked.
It worked, obviously, as the Irish are still perfect.
But about this guy, Golson: He's good and possesses the same kind of elusiveness that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel used to shred Alabama's defensive schemes.
And don't kid yourselves—Golson can throw the football and has improved throughout the season.
In the first six games of the season, he totaled eight touchdowns, two on the ground and six through the air, while throwing three interceptions.
Over the last five games, he has scored 10 times and thrown only two picks.
He's no efficiency expert and sometimes makes mistakes, but Golson's ability to move the pocket and make the clutch play makes him special.
Kirby Smart will have some special schemes to throw at Golson, and how he responds to those new looks will help determine this game.
4. 'Bama Backs vs. Irish Front Seven
Between Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, Alabama has amassed 2,182 yards on the ground and 27 rushing touchdowns.
Lacy is a load at 220 pounds (conservatively), but he also has the speed to break a long run for score.
Throw in Yeldon's speed, and this combo is as difficult to stop as any in the nation.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame's front seven, anchored by Heisman finalist Manti Te'o, is fourth in the nation in rush defense, allowing just over 92 yards on the ground per game.
Alabama's offense is predicated on an effective running game that works to open the passing game over the top.
If Te'o and company do what they have done all season and limit rushing yards, 'Bama is going to struggle to score points.
But given a month to plan, expect Nick Saban and his staff to establish some new wrinkles for this Notre Dame defense to solve.
3. Manti Te'o vs. Alabama Offense
Some call him a fraud:
I'd take Jarvis Jones over Manti Te'o— Casey Hanna (@KC_Hanna) December 4, 2012
Irish fans, of course are ecstatic over linebacker Manti Te'o's push for the Heisman:
So Will Manti have an undefeated Senior season? Well his next step is winning the hiesman this saturday night. #Te'o— Mr. IDG2F (@leftbreen) December 4, 2012
Whether you think he has earned his Heisman finalist status or is overrated, there is no arguing that Te'o has had a great season and is one of the best defenders in the nation.
In every big game this season, he has made at least one big play for the Irish.
He was in on goal-line stands against Stanford and USC and sealed the victory with his interception in Notre Dame's game against Oklahoma.
So what's in store against Alabama?
You better believe Te'o will be all over the field.
2. Amari Cooper vs. Notre Dame Secondary
Nick Saban has started a regular wide-receiver factory at Alabama.
The Crimson Tide follow up Julio Jones and Marquis Maze with stud frosh Amari Cooper.
Cooper is averaging 17.2 yards per catch, has scored nine times and is getting better as the season progresses.
In three of his last four games, he has gained more than 100 yards receiving and scored at least one touchdowns.
Over that span, he has averaged over 21 yards per catch.
Now, the Irish have not been very easy to move the ball against, but if there is a weakness, it's that secondary.
Injuries have plagued this unit all season, and the potential deficiencies have been covered well by the excellent front seven of the Irish.
Cooper and A.J. McCarron will be testing them early and often.
1. Brian Kelly vs. Nick Saban
This is the best coaching matchup we have seen in a long time.
Unlike Nick Saban's opponent in the last title game, Les Miles, Brian Kelly is capable and perfectly willing to make adjustments mid-game.
Saban has already established himself as one of the greatest coaches in college football history with three BCS titles, and he now has a shot at a fourth.
Kelly is the rising star in this game, aiming for his first national title with the most storied program in college football.
He has smarts, knows how to recruit and has put together a solid staff.
This is a meeting between the legend and the upstart for college football greatness.
On top of that, they both have amazing hair:
Brian Kelly vs. Nick Saban for the crystal football. First hair out of place loses.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) December 3, 2012