Notre Dame’s long-awaited return to the BCS National Championship Game might not finish with a happy ending.
For the first time since 1988, the No.1 ranked Fighting Irish will compete for the championship. Despite running the table during the regular season, Notre Dame enters the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 as the underdog against the 12-1 Alabama Crimson Tide.
Both teams plowed through their opponents on the strength of a fierce defense and rushing attack, so those who have become spoiled by dazzling NFL aerial offenses might want to look away during this old school battle.
While the Fighting Irish turned back the clocks to regain their spot atop of college football, there are major obstacles to overcome in order to reclaim their crown as the sport’s best.
Can They Poke Holes in Alabama's Airtight Defense?
Alabama’s defense imposed its will on opponents all season long, allowing 10.7 points and 246 total yards per game.
For the Fighting Irish to emerge victorious, they will need to produce big plays through the ground against an offense that allows 79.77 rushing yards per contest.
Theo Riddick tallied 880 rushing yards and five touchdowns, but his finer performances came at the expense of weaker rushing defenses in USC, Navy and Brigham Young. Against Michigan State, he offered 30 yards on 12 carries, and Stanford only allowed him to total 45 yards on the ground.
If Alabama stymies Notre Dame’s ground-and-pound attack, the squad will be forced to make something happen through the air, a scenario that looks even more unlikely.
How Will Everett Golson Handle the Big Stage?
Everett Golson played well enough to lead Notre Dame this far, earning a 131.8 quarterback rating while yielding just five interceptions. But the Fighting Irish are in trouble if they’re counting on Golson to provide the heavy lifting on Jan. 7.
In four games against ranked opponents, Golson amassed 401 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a 30-yard two-interception stinker against Michigan on Sept. 22. How will he handle his greatest challenge yet?
Meanwhile, junior A.J. McCarron comes fresh off delivering a championship for the Crimson Tide. In his second season as a starter, McCarron has displayed incredible efficiency, completing 66.8 percent of his passes while only surrendering three interceptions to accompany his 26 passing touchdowns.
If this matchup boils down to which quarterback can break down a stout defense to deliver a key play, Alabama will hold a distinct advantage over Notre Dame.
Can Notre Dame Out-muscle 'Bama?
Although Notre Dame operates as an independent, it styles its philosophy holding true to a SEC mentality.
They beat their inferior competition by playing fierce defense, rushing often and avoiding the key errors. But Alabama does all that too, and they're better at it.
Notre Dame allows an impressive 288.1 yards per game, but Alabama gives up 246. Notre Dame accumulates 421.3 yards per contest, and Alabama strings together 439.1.
Alabama also averages 11.7 more points a game than Notre Dame, which is a massive disparity considering that only two teams managed to score more than 17 points on the Crimson Tide this year.
For Notre Dame to win, they'll need something to break their way. A lucky bounce must come their way, a turnover must arrive at the most opportune time, and star linebacker Manti Te'o needs to deliver the performance of his lifetime.
It's possible, but on paper Alabama boasts the superior squad.