The No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide may be the lower-ranked team in the BCS title game against Notre Dame, but their most significant advantage is under center with QB A.J. McCarron.
The steady junior has gotten it done before on this stage, and McCarron will again guide Nick Saban's powerhouse program to a second-straight national championship.
Considering the Fighting Irish have only allowed two rushing touchdowns the entire season, McCarron making plays through the air will be the difference-maker for the Tide. One big difference from a year ago to now in the quarterback is his ability to throw the ball downfield.
While his yards per attempt of just over eight wasn't a slouch by any stretch, McCarron has upped his game in 2012, averaging over 9.3 yards on every throw. Not to mention, his decision-making has gotten better and he has thrown thrown 26 touchdowns—10 more than last season—in 42 fewer attempts entering the January 7 showdown.
Obviously, it won't be easy against the top-ranked scoring defense in the nation, led by All-American linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o.
Notre Dame's star player is one of the best at baiting QBs into throws and playing coverage from his position, as he's notched a whopping seven interceptions in a phenomenal campaign.
But McCarron gives the Tide a significant advantage over Irish sophomore Everett Golson at the game's most important position. Golson struggled to wrest the starting job away from Tommy Rees for much of the year. Although he has shown progression and had moments of brilliance throughout Notre Dame's undefeated season, Golson is a far less stable commodity than McCarron.
Head coach Nick Saban has to feel confident in McCarron not only because he guided the Tide to a title last year, but also because of all the adversity the Bama signal-caller has faced—and overcome—in this latest ride for the Crimson Tide.
After passing for literally zero yards in the second half at LSU, McCarron led his team to a game-winning touchdown drive, finding freshman RB T.J. Yeldon for the deciding score.
Having not thrown an interception all year long, McCarron threw two—including one deep in Texas A&M territory—in Bama's only loss of the year to the Aggies at home.
It looked like the Tide's dreams of a repeat were dashed. McCarron and Co., though, kept fighting.
Losses by Oregon and Kansas State opened the door again for the Tide, and in the SEC championship game against third-ranked Georgia, McCarron delivered a 45-yard bomb to Amari Cooper with 3:15 left to key the Tide to a dramatic 32-28 victory.
Getting through the SEC slate in the fashion that Alabama did prepares the team for anything it may face against the Irish. McCarron himself has been at the center of the stormy times, and more often than not pulled through in the most critical moments.
In a matchup of two, run-dominant offenses and the nation's top two scoring defenses, it should come down to the wire.
With the game on the line, though, the smart money is on McCarron.