The 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game is slated for Monday, Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET. The nation's top two teams will battle for 60 minutes to decide the fate of the crystal football.
Alabama seeks to extend the SEC's national-title streak to seven years, and Notre Dame fights to end its best season in decades on the highest note possible. Both teams will make mistakes; these two defenses will make sure of that.
What mistakes have these teams made throughout the season? What mistakes could cost either team the game? Click through to see the five mistakes each team must avoid in order to walk away with the 2012 national title.
Alabama is entering this game as a 10-point favorite (sportsbook.ag), and that can create a sense of entitlement for any team.
Alabama made it to the national championship by beating almost everyone on its schedule, and the Tide can easily believe that their experience in national championships will make it easy to beat Notre Dame.
There is one glaring error with that mentality: It is not easy to beat Notre Dame. Say what you want about the teams that Notre Dame almost lost to, but the Irish didn't lose to anyone.
From Pittsburgh to Oklahoma, Notre Dame has done everything it needed to do to remain undefeated. The Irish are the only undefeated team in the nation. Notre Dame has film of Alabama losing. Alabama has no such luxury.
If Alabama doesn't show up to play grown-man football, the Irish will happily show the Tide how it's done.
Notre Dame has the nation's leading scoring defense at 10.3 points per game, and it's just ahead of No. 2 Alabama. Notre Dame has held teams to fewer than 100 rushing yards per game through the season, and the Irish have allowed only eight touchdowns from the red zone all season.
It's easy to get caught up in the electricity of playing on a national stage, but getting too wrapped-up in the "size" of the game can take away from what you need to do. Notre Dame needs to stay focused on one thing: playing football.
Notre Dame has already played football 12 times this season, and the Irish won every game they played. If they come in and treat this as a football game, there is no opponent that is invincible. If the Irish come in and play as if they're scared to make a mistake, then they will make mistakes.
It's one of the great paradoxes of competition: The more you care about whether you win or lose, the more difficult it is to win. Notre Dame needs to care about playing the same football it has already played this season. If the Irish succeed in doing that, the winning will take care of itself.
Alabama's only loss of the season came to Texas A&M on Nov. 10. The single biggest mistake Alabama made was losing the turnover battle.
Alabama tossed two interceptions and fumbled once. Texas A&M turned those three turnovers into a five-point victory. Alabama would have won the game if not for the interception in the end zone.
The other side of that coin is causing turnovers. Not only did Alabama lose the turnover battle, it lost it three-to-nothing. Alabama did not force Texas A&M to lose the ball at all.
Sure, A&M punted a lot after the first quarter, but you have to take the ball away to create opportunities for your offense (especially if you're going to hand the ball to the enemy three times).
There are more reasons that Alabama lost that game, and they will be covered momentarily.
Notre Dame shares a similarity with Alabama in the turnover department: The Irish had one fumble and two interceptions against Pittsburgh.
Pitt had an opportunity to win that game with a 33-yard field goal, but the Panthers missed it. Notre Dame rallied and won the game, but there's no denying the danger the Irish faced at the time.
Notre Dame turned the ball over three times in that game, and it almost cost them the match. The other similarity between Notre Dame versus Pittsburgh and Alabama versus Texas A&M is that Notre Dame didn't take the football from Pitt, either.
If you're going to lose the turnover battle and still win, you can't lose it three-to-nothing. This applies to every football team in the nation, and the two powerhouses facing off in Miami are not exceptions to that rule.
Alabama had one game where A.J. McCarron was frequently hit. Anyone who watched the game remembers the monsoon in Missouri where he torqued his knee a bit after taking a hit from the Tigers.
The game was won handily, but that won't be the case in Miami. McCarron has to have a quicker release against Notre Dame. After all, it's a suicide mission to send either backup in against the Notre Dame defense. Manti Te'o would eat the young passer alive with experience.
McCarron was well-protected against Missouri as far as the passing aspect was concerned, but he was hit after the pass quite a bit. Every hit was legal, but they were all unnecessary. He was holding the ball for over four seconds on a regular basis in that game.
McCarron hangs out behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, and that has spoiled him. He's gotten better since the Missouri game, but he still tends to hold the ball a couple of second longer than needed.
If he keeps the ball over four seconds, he's eventually going to regret it. It might cost Alabama a national championship, too.
Everett Golson has developed well throughout the season, but he is going to need a great game against Alabama.
The teams that gave Alabama fits were Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU. All three of those teams had more than 250 passing yards against the Tide.
Everett Golson has thrown for more than 250 yards twice this season: against Wake Forest (346 yards) and Purdue (289 yards).
It's possible that Golson can lead the Irish to victory with as few as 200 passing yards, but they would need to be some seriously effective yards. Golson has to avoid making bad decisions with the ball. This includes panicking and throwing the ball away when he really doesn't need to.
Golson hasn't played a game in his career in an environment as raucous as Sun Life Stadium will be against the Tide. He has to keep his wits about him and refuse to get lost in the thunder around him.
There is a good reason for this, and it's in their running styles. If a team is prepared to deal with Lacy, then Yeldon's style tends to be highly effective. It works the other way around, too, as those game logs will show you.
The issue with Alabama is that the Tide often bring in the tailback that's not doing so well to relieve the one who is seeing success. That makes sense to a point, but there are times that it doesn't.
For instance, against Texas A&M, Lacy had 16 carries for 92 yards. Yeldon had 10 carries for 29 yards in the same game, and his longest run was for nine yards.
That means that Yeldon had 20 yards on nine carries if you take out his biggest run. What if the load had been kept with Lacy? It may not have changed the outcome of the game, but it would have made much more sense to give Lacy five more carries to see what would happen.
Alabama has put the ball in the hands of the wrong person on occasion this season. That can't happen against Notre Dame. If one of the tailbacks is successful and the other isn't, then the Tide need to stick with the winner.
If Alabama hands Notre Dame the personnel that it has prepared best for, then the Tide will punt...a lot. Punts don't score.
Notre Dame has trailed in three games this season:
1. Stanford: 10-3 at halftime.
2. BYU 14-7 at halftime.
3. Pittsburgh: 20-6 in the fourth quarter.
The Irish have shown grit and resilience by overcoming deficits of up to 14 points with as little as 14 minutes left in a game.
Why is that a problem? Alabama's only loss this season came after trailing by 20 points at the end of the first quarter. Even in that game, Alabama pulled to within three points before finally being dispatched in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame can beat Alabama, and the Irish are capable of blowing the Tide out if the circumstances work out just right. What is unlikely is the Irish coming from behind to take the Tide down in Miami.
Notre Dame needs to come out strong and establish a 14-point lead or better in order to have a great chance at taking home the title.
No, it's not impossible for the Irish to come from behind for the win, but it's certainly unlikely. The last team to come from more than three points behind to beat Alabama was Auburn in the 2010 Iron Bowl.
Auburn had Cam Newton at that time, and Everett Golson is not Cam Newton. This is one of the biggest mistakes Notre Dame can make. The Irish are more than capable of beating Alabama, but they are not potent enough on offense to give Alabama a significant lead.
Alabama needs to be more aware of when adjustments need to be made that don't involve personnel. Alabama's performance against the LSU Tigers is a prime example of how to stick to a plan that isn't working.
Let's examine that: Alabama has a 12-1 record as the SEC champion, and the Tide favor the run over the pass. Alabama has lost one game and almost lost another, and in both those games the Tide played an almost-perfectly balanced game.
This means that teams are prepared for a balanced attack, and Alabama has some sort of pattern going on. The elite teams that face a balanced Tide team are prepared for it. Here's the math:
In losses or near-losses, Alabama has a rush-to-pass ratio of 56 to 61 (0.92-to-1). In wins, Alabama's ratio is 469 to 239 (1.96-to-1).
When Alabama is slow to analyze what's really working, the Tide stick to balance and don't do well. When the Tide figure out the correct rhythm, they run the ball almost twice as much as they pass it and win.
Alabama needs to quickly determine what's working best, and they need to adjust quickly. Notre Dame is fourth in the nation in rushing defense and 20th in the nation against the pass (both ranks reference the stats sorted by yards-per-game).
That means that Alabama will probably have to favor the pass to win. Running should be used to open up the passing lanes, and the Tide should treat any big runs as icing on the cake. Alabama has to do what works, not what it wishes would work.
It's very possible that Notre Dame can stop the run. If that's the case, then the Tide should abandon it for the pass. If the run is successful, then keep doing it. Never abandon something that's working in favor of something you wish would work.
Notre Dame can fall into an easy trap against Alabama, and that is keying on one player too much. If the Irish focus on Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon or Amari Cooper too much, then there are other players on the field that will make them pay for ignoring them.
The Irish have not lost a game, which implies that someone on the sideline knows what's going on. However, the Lacy/Yeldon combo is unique to Alabama, as is Amari Cooper.
Notre Dame can lock-on to Cooper, and Kevin Norwood or Christion Jones will be there to pick up the slack. If the Irish focus on Lacy, Yeldon will be there to gouge them. The list goes on, but those are the biggest threats.
Notre Dame has Manti Te'o, and he will be one of the best linebackers on the field. (After all, he's the absolute best linebacker on a lot of fields.) He will definitely be the best linebacker on the field in terms of interceptions (he's picked off seven passes, which is tied for second in the nation).
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are ranked No. 1 in the BCS for a reason. They walked into Norman and handed the Oklahoma Sooners a 30-13 loss at home. They walked onto football fields 12 times this season, and came away with 12 wins.
Notre Dame's schedule is vastly different from Alabama's, and your friends may be trying to convince you that the Irish don't have a chance. Well, the Irish supposedly weren't going to have anything close to a perfect season, as the Preseason AP Poll was missing the Irish entirely.
Notre Dame is at the end of the season that the media implied wouldn't happen. If the Irish can avoid tunnel vision toward any one player and maintain their standard of playing like a champion, then they can add a national championship to their "impossible" season.
The Irish will be happy to take home a crystal football that they aren't supposed to win. It will fit right in with all the other trophies that other teams are jealous of.