It's been 15 days since the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Alabama Crimson Tide were officially slated to play in the BCS National Championship, and most of us are already sick of hearing about the matchup.
It's an inevitable upshot of the current playoff system. The other bowls are good and fun, but in the grand scheme of things, none of them really matter. Only the result of Notre Dame vs. Alabama will withstand the test of time. So if we, the media, are given two months to wait in anticipation, of course we're gonna break down the same players, matchups and stories ad nauseum . It's what we do!
So here's a welcome respite from articles about how A.J. McCarron must be accurate on deep balls, or how Manti Te'o needs to create turnovers. Both of those things are true, but by now you're surely well aware of that.
Below are three under-the-radar Irish players who need to step up against Alabama. Three players you likely haven't read (that much) about, whom Notre Dame can't win without getting a good game from.
And be patient, folks—only 22 days of coverage 'til kickoff!
NT Louis Nix
A.J. McCarron has been great this season. In fact, he's been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. But if Alabama wants to beat the Irish, it will need to establish a supplement on the ground.
That's where Nix comes in.
The Tide boast two 1,000-yard rushers, one of whom—Eddie Lacey—does most of his work between the tackles. Actually, forget the tackles: Lacey does most of his work between the guards.
Ascending sophomore nose tackle Louis Nix has been a revelation this year in South Bend. He played so well, in fact, that the team named him co-defensive lineman of the year along with All-American Stephon Tuitt.
He'll have his work cut out for him against Alabama, though. Because if he truly wants to make a positive impact, he'll need to outplay the best center—if not the best offensive lineman—in college football, Barrett Jones.
Nix, for his part, isn't backing down from the challenge. Of Jones he said, "I'm happy that he's the No. 1 center in the country—that gives me an opportunity to better myself and see where I fit at in the country with other nose tackles that went up against him." (h/t ESPN.com)
If Notre Dame plans on slowing down Lacey, it better hope he fits in pretty well.
C Braxton Cave
He may not be the aforementioned Barrett Jones, but Braxton Cave is certainly no slouch at center.
The Irish senior, and ballast of their offensive line, has helped pave holes for Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood all season long. His success didn't go unnoticed, either: The Associated Press named him a third-team All-American (Jones, for his part, made the first team).
Like Alabama, Notre Dame has trouble moving the ball solely through the air. If it's unable to establish the run, its offense can be cold, stagnant and, at times, downright ugly. Which is inauspicious since establishing the run against the Tide is easier said than done.
Like, much easier said than done—they're the No. 1 rushing defense in the country.
Cave will have his hands full with Alabama nose guard Jesse Williams. The senior made a smooth transition from end to guard this season, consistently forcing more than one man to block him at a time. That proclivity for occupation has freed the rest of Alabama's line to make play after play.
If Cave can occupy Williams by himself—which, like everything against the Tide, will be easier said than done—the Irish might be able to move the ball on the ground. If not, the game will rest solely on Everett Golson's arm.
K Kyle Brindza
Sophomore Kyle Brindza has had a capricious season, especially from middle range. Just take a look at his splits by distance:
Alabama's defense occasionally bends, but hardly ever breaks. It's likely, if not downright inevitable, that Brindza will be asked to make a couple of kicks from 30-49 yards—a distance he's made only 61 percent of his kicks from.
He made 5-of-6 kicks against USC, but only 1-of-2 from that crucial distance. This is distressing since a missed mid-range field goal is, for all intents and purposes, the same thing as a turnover.
The Irish need to play a near-perfect game to beat Alabama. They'd prefer to get touchdowns over field goals, but if and when they call Brindza's number, they need to walk away with three, not zero.
Otherwise, they can kiss the Crystal Trophy goodbye.