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Outside of South Bend, does anyone really give Notre Dame a chance to pull off the upset against Alabama in the BCS National Championship?
Probably not, but I'm here to tell you it could happen, folks. After betting against Notre Dame for most of the season, I'm willing to admit there is a certain magic to this team. I'm not saying that magic will propel the Fighting Irish to the win, I'm only saying you can't count this team out.
So how can Notre Dame overcome the odds and finish this season as the best team in the land? I'm glad you asked—here are three keys to the game for Notre Dame.
Control the Clock
I don't care how talented the Notre Dame front seven is on defense, if Alabama is allowed to control time of possession, the Crimson Tide will eventually wear down Notre Dame's defense by running the ball and grinding out yards.
Alabama simply has too much talent on the offensive line and at running back for any team to handle if the Crimson Tide are allowed to continuously keep possession.
For Notre Dame, this means two things: extending drives on offense and getting Alabama off the field on third downs. The Fighting Irish need to establish their own running game early. Everett Golson needs to be efficient on third-down conversions and rely on Tyler Eifert to accumulate safe, easy yards.
And the secondary has to play solid football so that A.J. McCarron doesn't beat the team down the field.
It's easier said than done, but the team that wins time of possession will almost assuredly win this game. When two teams that make their money playing excellent defense and running the ball effectively meet, the team that controls the clock has a big advantage.
Force Turnovers and Field Goals
Much like winning the time of possession battle, Notre Dame absolutely will not win this game if it gives the ball away. Alabama is hard enough to beat on its own—giving the team free possessions is a recipe for disaster.
Notre Dame also needs to be a bend-but-don't-break defense. Even if Alabama is able to move the ball successfully, the defense can keep the game close by forcing field goals. And Notre Dame has done just that all season long, with the nation's best red-zone defense.
As Lorenzo Reyes of CBS points out, "In 33 red zone drives this season, Notre Dame has only ceded 95 points and two rushing touchdowns—both best in the country."
They'll need to replicate that stingy red-zone defense if the team hopes to beat Alabama. Winning the turnover battle will be key as well.
Everett Golson Has to Be the Man
The young quarterback has the potential to be the biggest thorn in Alabama's side in this game. He also has the potential to completely sink the hopes of Notre Dame. He could be a dynamic playmaker, or a source of turnovers.
So will Golson show up?
If he does, Notre Dame has a shot. Remember, it was the dual-threat play of Johnny Manziel that handed Alabama its only loss of the year. As Dan Wolken of USA Today notes, it's just another reason why Golson is the right man for this job:
But the reason Notre Dame has kept going back to Golson is because of what can't be taught. Despite the learning curve and sometimes shaky decision-making, he has that Manziel-ish ability to create something out of nothing.
"Extended plays are how they've made a lot of big plays," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. "You look at their scramble reel, there's a lot of plays that a guy has really great arm talent because he can throw one side of the field to the other. I can see in my mind three plays we watched over and over, he scrambles to his right, throws it all the way across the field to his left to a wide open received where a guy just lost him. They had him covered and they lost him. To that kid's credit, that creates a different angle of the offense that's hard to prepare for."
As talented and prepared as this Alabama defense is and will be, it's hard to stop a player who can create plays via improvisation. Notre Dame will win this game if it wins the turnover battle, forces Alabama field goals and plays sound, ball-control football.
But hey, a little creativity by the quarterback will go a long way, too. And that, folks, is how Notre Dame can pull off the upset.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets still envision the Irish being swept away by a Crimson Tide.