2013's BCS Championship will be a low-scoring, hard-hitting affair that will be characterized by a Notre Dame defense that gave up just 10.3 points per game and an Alabama unit that gave up just 10.7.
One player, or one play for that matter, could be the difference in this game.
With that in mind, a few players stand out as candidates to have game-altering performances. These players have unique skill-sets and potentially favorable matchups in this game. They'll be key for their respective teams.
Tyler Eifert, TE Notre Dame
Alabama took on a lot of elite talent this season, but none at the tight end position. In fact, Alabama tight end Michael Williams may be the best that the Tide has taken on all year, and that was only in practice.
After Monday, though, Tyler Eifert will be the best tight end the Tide have seen. Eifert, Notre Dame's leading receiver with 624 yards and four touchdowns, is a special talent who is better than his stats suggest.
Unlike many prolific tight ends, Eifert is as effective as a blocker as he is a pass-catcher. Eifert's efforts as a blocker helped Notre Dame average 202.5 yards per game on the ground, good for 29th in the nation.
More importantly, though, Eifert is also a great receiver. The John Mackey award winner could challenge a secondary that is seen as the one possible flaw in what is an otherwise stellar team.
Really, the Tide secondary is getting unfairly maligned because fans and pundits have become too expectant of dominance. That having been said, Eifert offers a matchup the likes of which the Tide have not seen. A big game from Eifert could result in long drives for Notre Dame, and that could be enough for a win.
Alabama Offensive Line
This might be a cop-out, but really, Alabama has yet to face a front-seven like this. How their offensive line handles the Notre Dame defense will be key in this game.
Alabama fans will protest at this assertion, of course. Georgia has Johnathan Jenkins, Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones. LSU has Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter and Sam Montgomery. That's all well and good, but neither of those teams led the nation in scoring defense.
Notre Dame did, and that was thanks to the efforts of stars like Louis Nix, Manti Te'o and Stephon Tuitt—three of the best defensive players in the nation. Alabama has not faced a front-seven this good, period.
That doesn't mean the Tide are not up to the task. Alabama has the nation's best offensive line, bar none. Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker are the top names, but all five can play. This will be a matchup for the ages in the trenches, which football purists will love.
This bowl season, defenses have been winning these kinds of matchups. Jadaveon Clowney owned Michigan and Damontre Moore owned Oklahoma. Can Alabama buck the trend? The offensive line will have to for the Tide to win this game.
Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
If Alabama is going to successfully attack Notre Dame, the Tide will need to attack through the air, where Notre Dame is slightly more vulnerable.
Specifically, the Fighting Irish don't have the best speed in the secondary, though it's still very good. Amari Cooper has the speed to provide a mismatch for the Tide. His 4.38 40-yard dash, paired with excellent size at 6'1", makes Cooper the top priority for the Irish defense.
Just one or two big plays from Cooper could be the difference in this game. That would force the Irish to play honestly and not sell out to stop the run. The best chance that Alabama has to run the ball is to spread the field with their passing attack, and Cooper is the guy to do that. He already has 895 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, including big games against Georgia and Tennessee.
Cooper is the ultimate X-factor in this game. His speed makes him a big mismatch that Notre Dame will have to account for.
Failure to do so could cost the Irish the game.
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