For the third time in four years, the Alabama Crimson Tide will have to wait.
Alabama defeated Georgia 32-28 in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 1 in what was essentially a play-in game for the BCS National Championship. For Alabama, watching the final second tick off the game clock meant five weeks without football. It also meant five weeks to get healthy and prepare for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
When betting opened on the title game, Alabama was listed as a nine-point favorite. That should come as no surprise considering Alabama’s dominance on both sides of the football this season. The Crimson Tide is No. 15 in scoring offense and No. 2 in scoring defense in the entire country—playing an SEC schedule no less.
We won’t see an offensive deluge when Alabama and Notre Dame take the field in January, but that’s all the more reason Alabama will spend the next three weeks scheming and game-planning for arguably the only defense in the country better than its own.
The biggest key for Alabama will be establish the running game early and not deviating from the plan if it isn’t gaining big chunks of yardage. Notre Dame is stout up the middle, led by Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o at the middle linebacker position. If Alabama becomes one-dimensional on offense and doesn’t wear down Notre Dame’s front seven, A.J. McCarron will have a long, physical day under center.
McCarron will play a huge role in this game as well, though he won’t have to put up huge numbers. It should be McCarron’s top priority to take care of the football and not turn it over. He only threw three interceptions this year, but two of them came in Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M on Nov. 10. Tacit though it may be, Alabama lost its only game in which McCarron threw more than one interception.
As long as McCarron plays smart football, the onus will be on Alabama’s offensive line. The only way to neutralize such a stout front seven is to win in the trenches through physical play and a tough mentality. Alabama’s line has been lauded this year for just that, and it will be on those five linemen to keep the offense moving in a positive direction.
This game should be decided on the offensive side of the football. Defense wins championships, but teams must still score points to win, and points will come at a premium when these teams face off.