There are going to be many big plays in the 2013 BCS national championship between Alabama and Notre Dame. Some of these plays will come at the hands of superstar players, and others will be carried out by guys that received little-to-no love leading up to the big matchup.
Looking back on past national championships, there are always the guys that nobody even heard of that helped contribute to the victory. Sure, big-name players made their mark as well. But if it weren't for that first-year receiver picking up that crucial first down or that second-string linebacker making that big hit, the outcome may have been different.
Everybody knows the guys such as AJ McCarron and Manti Te'o; however, there are other people on both of these rosters that can make an impact. The players that received the majority of the attention throughout the year will not be the only ones to decide the game.
With that said, here are a few of the unsung heroes that could determine the outcome of the national championship.
If you are looking for the guy to make a big play that nobody is paying attention to, look no further than true-freshman Davonte' Neal. We could make a list of the top-50 players between these two clubs, and Neal likely still wouldn't make the list.
The former 5-star recruit has only caught one pass and hasn't been very effective on special teams, either. However, his speed and acceleration cannot be ignored, and it is part of his game that makes him so intriguing on the offensive side of the ball.
With a Notre Dame offense that lacks true playmakers, Neal could provide that spark and create a difference-making play.
Whether it is on special teams, catching a deep pass as a receiver or even being involved in a trick play, coach Brian Kelly should do what he can to put the ball in the kid's hands. With his ability to make defenders miss in the open field, the guy that nobody was paying attention to could make that one play that changes the outcome.
Key Stats: 1 reception for minus-5 yards, 18 punt returns for 44 yards, 1 rush for 7 yards
Just take a hard look at Jesse Williams and you will quickly realize that you are a safer person watching from the sidelines. He is one of the stronger guys in college football and the eye-black covering the majority of his face is quite intimidating.
Unlike Notre Dame, the Crimson Tide don’t have that one defensive lineman who can make plays on his own and get into the backfield. The unit relies on everybody to step up and help free the next guy, which has resulted in 33 sacks on the year. A lot of that help has come from Williams in the middle of the line.
At 6'4", 320 pounds, Williams is somebody that does all of the dirty work in the trenches. He won't rack up the impressive stats that the media falls in love with, but there aren't many guys that are able to block him by themselves. He consistently takes on double-teams, making things easier for his teammates around him.
If the Crimson Tide are able to sack quarterback Everett Golson in this game, see where Williams was on the play and make sure to give him some of the credit.
Key Stats: 36 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 passes broken up
With Manti Te'o hanging around for one final game and the media still salivating over him, you'll be hard-pressed to find any other players on this Notre Dame defense getting time in the spotlight. Dan Fox is another linebacker on this Irish team that is capable of making plays.
The senior is fourth on the team in tackles and had his only sack of the year in a close contest against BYU.
Fox is somebody who covers a lot of ground and flies to the football. He does a good job of reacting to the quarterback and is an absolute force in helping against the run. He rarely misses a tackle and does a good job of limiting the big play.
In fact, it was Fox's hit that made Te'o's interception against Oklahoma possible.
While everybody will continue to talk about the Heisman finalist, just know that another senior linebacker is capable of making a game-changing play as well.
Key Stats: 57 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack.
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert has the bigger name and is the better receiver, but it is Michael Williams that can contribute in many different ways.
The senior is more of a blocking tight end, as he is strong at the point of attack and has shown the ability to handle those speedy defensive ends coming off the edge. This will be key in protecting quarterback AJ McCarron because the Irish do have a few guys that can destroy the opposing signal-caller if you aren't careful.
But while Williams gets most of his credit for pass protection, he is also capable of making plays in the passing game. He only has 21 receptions on the year, but three of those catches have resulted in touchdowns. He is a lot more athletic than you would think, and he can provide the Tide with a reliable big man downfield.
Williams is somebody that is versatile and will play a big role for this offense. The Notre Dame defense must account for him.
Key Stats: 21 receptions for 166 yards, 3 touchdowns
Notre Dame has an underrated two-headed monster at running back in Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, but George Atkinson III is somebody that is often left out of the loop.
He doesn't touch the ball nearly as much as the other backs do, but he is extremely effective when the coaches find ways to let him loose. Atkinson is averaging seven yards a carry and has scored five rushing touchdowns on only 51 touches.
His ability to turn the corner and hit another gear in the open field is impressive. If you allow him to get out into space, there is a good chance the sophomore is going to break off a big play. He is shifty in and out of his cuts and can provide the Irish with that home-run threat.
Atkinson has helped Notre Dame in running the football, receiving and special teams. In a game that is expected to be close, it only takes one big play to make all the difference. The running back who doesn't receive much love could be the X-factor for the Irish and their chances of winning.
Key Stats: 361 rushing yards, 394 kickoff-return yards