Alabama QB AJ McCarron's experience advantage over Notre Dame's Everett Golson is a big factor that gives the Tide an edge at the most important position on the field.
In a game that features two evenly-matched teams battling on the sport’s biggest stage, next month’s BCS title clash between Alabama and Notre Dame will ultimately come down to a few key individual matchups.
One look at the recently unveiled 2012 Walter Camp All-American team offers a glimpse into the type of talent both the Tide and the Irish possess, but which spots in the starting lineup can Tide fans see a clear advantage when projected against their Irish counterparts?
Considering the defensive background of Nick Saban and the offensive pedigree of Brian Kelly, next month’s title tilt could feature a bit of role-reversal in terms of their team’s respective strengths.
The Tide appear to hold an edge at several offensive positions, while the Irish look to have an advantage with a majority of the pieces in its front seven on defense.
So which players in the Tide’s lineup are better than the players lining up at their same respective positions for the Irish?
Here are seven Alabama starters that are better than their Notre Dame counterparts.
In a game featuring two of the nation’s top defenses doing battle, field position will play a critical role in deciding the outcome of this game.
Mandell averages only slightly more than three yards per punt than Irish punter Ben Turk, but the junior was able to boot 17 of his attempts inside the 20-yard line.
Three of those field-flipping punts came in the SEC title win over Georgia, which proves that Mandell can perform at a high level under pressure—which could ultimately help the Tide’s special teams get a leg up on the Irish.
Notre Dame’s top corner is junior Bennett Jackson, who has had a stellar season racking up 61 tackles and four interceptions.
However, Alabama ‘s Dee Milliner—one of four Tide stars to merit first-team Associated Press All-American honors—may be the top cover corner in the country (h/t, espn.com).
Milliner has snared two picks, but he is also responsible for breaking up an astounding 18 passes this season.
While Jackson is certainly no slouch, Milliner is a special talent that gives the Tide the most imposing defensive back that will take the field for either team.
Barrett Jones (more on him later) gets most of the publicity surrounding Alabama’s vaunted offensive line, but Warmack is another mauler up front that gives the Tide a decided advantage in the trenches.
Chris Watt is a fine left guard for the Irish, but few guards across the country can make a claim to be on Warmack’s level.
In a game that will feature plenty of NFL talent in the trenches, Alabama’s confidence to be able to move the chains on the ground will be due in large part to having a physical presence like Warmack to run behind.
The Irish have an outstanding senior center in Braxston Cave, but Jones added the Rimington Award—given annually to the nation’s top center—to the lengthy list of honors he’s picked up over his decorated career (h/t, rolltide.com).
In fairness to Cave, there are few offensive linemen in college football's history that can match the credentials Jones has racked up on and off the field during his career at the Capstone.
Jones has continuously emerged victorious during four grueling years of battles in the trenches in the country’s toughest conference—and that experience should help him lead the way against a stout Irish front seven that ranks among the nation’s best.
After dealing with nagging injuries for most of the season, Lacy came on strong in the final five games, averaging 117 yards per game over the final month of the season.
Lacy is more of a workhorse than Irish lead back Theo Riddick, but both rushers will have help in the form of talented backups (T.J. Yeldon for Alabama and Cierre Wood for Notre Dame) that are more than capable of stepping up to shoulder the load in what should be a physical game.
However, considering the momentum Lacy is bringing into this game and the fact that he finally appears healthy, the Tide could enjoy the benefit of having the best running back on the field when they line up against the Irish next month.
Cooper put together one of the top seasons by an Alabama freshman receiver since former Tide great Julio Jones back in 2008.
The 6’1”, 198-pound spark plug delivered a jolt of electricity to the Tide’s receiver unit by hauling in 52 receptions for 894 yards and nine touchdowns—which led the team in each of those categories.
The Irish’s top wideout is junior TJ Jones, who is more of a wingman to tight end Tyler Eifert in Notre Dame’s aerial attack.
While both teams have a decent rotation at receiver, Cooper is far and away the most explosive playmaker on either roster.
One year after largely relying on the talents of running back Trent Richardson, Alabama’s offense has taken the next step in becoming a dominant offense thanks to the progression of quarterback AJ McCarron—who has thrown 26 touchdown passes this season.
His counterpart, Irish sophomore signal-caller Everett Golson, will look to turn the tables on the Tide by mimicking McCarron’s exploits in last season’s title-clinching effort against LSU.
While Golson has an unblemished record as a starter, McCarron’s experience in big games gives the Tide an edge at the game’s most important position heading into this showdown.