With the BCS title game now less than a week away, both Alabama and Notre Dame are putting the finishing touches on the game plans that they expect to win them the national championship.
For the Tide, the path to success in this game should be quite simple, as Alabama will likely stick with the formula that has helped them to to win 61 of their last 68 games and two of the last three BCS crowns.
Nonetheless, we will take our best shot at projecting the route that 'Bama will follow to victory come Monday night.
While it would be preposterous to suggest that I can formulate a better game plan than head coach Nick Saban can, there is certainly no harm in taking an educated guess at what that plan will be.
Please know going in that this is going to be heavily slanted towards an Alabama victory, hence the title, as any decent game plan should.
Alabama will most likely choose to receive the ball first, if the opportunity presents itself. Saban has made a habit of choosing to play offense first recently.
The Tide will want to get running back Eddie Lacy going early and take the opportunity to make sure the Irish know immediately the kind of physicality they will be facing.
That said, Alabama must make Notre Dame respect AJ McCarron's ability to throw. Look for McCarron to take a shot down field, most likely on a slant route to Kevin Norwood right away.
Why Norwood? Well the Irish secondary will be well versed in the talent that is freshman Amari Cooper and it will be important to show them that Alabama has more than one option out there.
Tight end Michael Williams must be a part of the first quarter offense as well, as the Tide will want to give Notre Dame as many things to think about as possible.
The Irish will be expecting Alabama to use wide receiver and running back screens to open up the passing game. These need to be left out of the playbook early on. A defense as good as Notre Dame will be prepared to stop these and moving the ball early is essential to a Tide victory.
In a perfect world, Alabama will run roughly 16-18 plays in the opening quarter. Look for at least 12 of them to be handoffs to either Lacy or Yeldon.
When the Irish get the ball, it is likely that they will try to get quarterback Everett Golson into a rhythm early. They will aim to match the Tide play for play and control the clock as well, but Golson is their golden ticket and they know this.
Alabama will likely put C.J. Mosley on stud tight end Tyler Eifert as it will expect the Irish to use short, quick passes and an equal mix of running and passing to get Golson off to a good start. Taking away his favorite target in Eifert will disrupt this strategy and force them to adjust.
Alabama needs to totally sell out to the run aside from keeping a close eye on Eifert. Much like against LSU, Alabama will look to stuff the running game and force Golson to play the game of his life to beat them.
The Tide will probably use linebackers Adrian Hubbard or Trey DePriest to spy on Golson and stop him from breaking off any big runs, forcing him to throw the ball.
Then, with tight coverage at the line of scrimmage Alabama will try to bait Golson into throwing out of his comfort zone and forcing bad passes into coverage.
At this point, Notre Dame should be getting accustomed to the constant pounding of Lacy and Yeldon while knowing that Alabama is willing to throw the ball down field from time to time. This is exactly where Alabama wants them to be.
Hopefully leading already, Alabama should take a series or two and go into the hurry-up, no-huddle attack that it used effectively against Auburn.
With an even mix of handoffs and passes, this is where McCarron can get Cooper more involved and the Tide can start to eat up large chunks of real estate in a short amount of time.
If done effectively, the Irish will be left reeling.
Defensively, Alabama will stick to the same basic plan, but start to throw multiple new looks and formations at Golson. Keeping him confused with the Tide's vast array of blitzes will continue to keep the Notre Dame offense off-balanced.
With the pressure that will already be weighing on Golson by simply being in such a big game, this confusion will lead to unforced errors and put the Tide in position to put some distance between them and the Irish on the scoreboard.
Look for Alabama to open up the half on defense, again sticking with the plan of stuffing the run and baiting the pass. Again though, a whole new set of looks, combinations and blitzes will be used to keep the Irish guessing and out of sync.
When the Tide gets the ball, an early deep pass to Cooper will be called as Notre Dame will be expecting Alabama to revert to a heavy dose of Lacy and Yeldon.
After the deep ball, Lacy and Yeldon will be exactly what Alabama will give them. The Tide will now use the nation's best offensive line to batter and bruise the Irish into submission and the front seven of Notre Dame will begin to wear down.
Once this happens, it is all over for the Irish.
Alabama will continue to use McCarron and throw the ball just enough to mix things up and prevent Notre Dame from totally stacking the box.
Assuming once again that the scoreboard is showing the fruits of good planning, Alabama will continue as scheduled with the ground game and aim to work the clock, keeping the Notre Dame defense on the field and gassed.
This will be the plan throughout the rest of the game.
Defensively, Notre Dame will now be forced to all but abandon the already ineffective ground game and go almost exclusively to Golson.
Alabama will now drop into coverage, operating primarily out of the nickel package but still throwing blitzes from different angles with every play.l
Based on his prior performances this year Golson will struggle to keep his offense on the field and the Tide will be able to put this one on ice.
While the Irish will be left on their sideline wondering what just happened and dreaming of what could have been, the Alabama sideline will be devising a plan to creatively douse Saban with yet another cooler of Gatorade.
Well this is the plan, anyway. Will it work? We will certainly find out in a matter of days.
With all due respect to Notre Dame, the kind of test that Notre Dame will provide Alabama is nothing that the Tide hasn't seen many times before.
With good execution and no major mistakes, Alabama should claim its second consecutive national title with a 23-6 victory over the Irish.