The 2013 BCS Championship is finally on the horizon and arguably the two most prolific programs in college football history will be facing each other in Alabama and Notre Dame.
While the Crimson Tide will be looking to win their third title in just four years, and the Irish have fought back from mediocrity and are trying to bring home their first championship since 1988.
The analysis, statistics and numbers have been argued ad nauseum for the last six weeks. Writers, readers and casual fans have been fed everything their is to know about both teams; the human interest stories and the key players; the trends and the match-ups.
Still, there are a few key points that seem to have been overlooked during this extended break. Here are five key statistics that clearly roll in the Tide's favor and will likely be the difference in the game.
ESPN has been kind enough to remind us endlessly how impressive the Notre Dame defense has been inside the red zone. What they say is 100 percent true, as the Irish have been as stingy with their backs against the wall as any team in recent memory.
The story they are not telling though, is of the red zone offenses.
Alabama ranks 16th nationally in red zone offense when it comes to touchdown percentage where the Tide is reaching the end zone 72 percent of the time.
The Irish have played three teams that rank in the top 50 in this category. While Wake Forest never reached the red zone, Purdue and Oklahoma did it seven times on the Irish, scoring on six of them and three of those being touchdowns.
Alabama has played six teams that rank in the top 50 in red zone touchdown defense. In those games, the Tide has scored on 21 of 23 red zone possessions with 14 touchdowns.
That's pretty good by most standards.
Conversely, Notre Dame's offense ranks 119th nationally in scoring red zone touchdowns at just 46 percent. Meanwhile, Alabama ranks 27th in red zone touchdown defense and first overall in both red zone scoring percentage and total opportunities allowed.
It is likely to be more difficult for Notre Dame to score from inside the red zone than it will for Alabama.
It has been well documented that both Alabama and Notre Dame have the best scoring defenses in the country. Notre Dame allows just 10.3 points per game while Alabama gives up a minuscule 10.7 per game.
Let's call that even. To claim anything other than that would be absurd.
But the story is much different on offense. The Irish average just 26.8 points per game. The Tide; however, average 38.5 per outing.
In games against teams ranked in the top 30 in scoring defense, Alabama played five teams. In those games, the Tide scored an average of 31.2 points.
The Irish, on the other hand, played six of the top 30 defenses. They scored just 20.2 points on average in those games.
Alabama ranks higher than Notre Dame in almost every offensive category. If the defenses are even, which is most definitely the case, the offenses matter.
In this game, Alabama has a clear offensive advantage over Notre Dame. Somebody will eventually have to score and the numbers say that it will most likely be Alabama that scores more often.
When it comes to quarterback rating, Alabama and Notre Dame are almost identical defensively. In fact, the numbers are remarkably similar.
Alabama's opponents have a quarterback rating of 101, Notre Dame's just 105. Alabama has allowed just 7 passing touchdowns while tallying 17 interceptions. Notre Dame has given up 7 passing touchdowns as well and has intercepted 16 passes.
Again, they're even.
But the quarterbacks are not.
AJ McCarron is second in the nation with a 173.07 QB rating. Everett Golson is 64th with a 131.79 rating.
McCarron has thrown 26 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. Golson has 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions on the season.
Against ranked opponents, McCarron has completed 58 percent of his passes for 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions for a rating of 135.57. Golson has a rating of just over 99 based on his 49 percent completions and his one touchdown to two interceptions.
It is clear that McCarron is a greater threat through the air, but detractors will argue that Golson is a dual-threat quarterback.
The fact is that Golson has carried the ball less than eight times per game on average, is picking up just over 25 yards per game and averages just 3.4 yards per carry.
This is not enough to make up for his lack of efficiency when passing. Nor is it enough to significantly disturb the Tide's defensive game plan.
Everyone knows that Alabama wants to run the ball and that they want to run it often. Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon are no longer secret weapons.
What is impressive; however, is that they seem to be getting better with each game. Lacy and Yeldon average 6.42 and 6.49 yards per carry, respectively.
As a team, Alabama averaged 4.73 yards per carry in September. This number improved to 5.86 in October and 5.98 in November when the Tide was playing it's toughest stretch of the schedule. Oh, and don't forget the 6.86 yards per carry that Alabama racked up against Georgia in December.
Many have forgotten that Lacy was injured for most of the first half of the season. He is now healthy in part due to the fact that Yeldon has been so reliable.
This has allowed head coach Nick Saban to minimize their carries. They have reached reached 20 carries in a single game just once.
Fresh legs will matter in this game.
At the same time, the heralded Notre Dame rushing defense does not appear to be improving. They allowed 2.92 yards per carry in October, but it jumped to 3.21 in November. On the season, Notre Dame has faced only three running backs this good, and never two in the same game.
Notre Dame has played two of the top 50 rushing teams (Michigan and Stanford). In those games, they allowed an average of 154 yards. At 19th, Alabama ranks higher than both of them.
The Tide has faced five of the top 50 rushing defenses. In those games, the Bama averaged right at 200 yards. Notre Dame ranks fourth against the run.
Yes, this matters.
On the season, Alabama is gaining an average of 5.49 yards when running the ball on first down (when everyone expects them to), Notre Dame is right there with them at 5.48 yards.
But defensively, Alabama only allows it's opponents to pick up a mere 2.48 yards per carry on first down. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is giving up a whopping 3.91 yards on first down carries.
This is a huge advantage for the Tide. Everyone knows Alabama likes to run on first down. If Alabama can average just what Notre Dame gives up, it will be looking at second down and five or six routinely.
This will allow Saban and McCarron to call whatever shots they like.
If Notre Dame; however, picks up what Alabama allows, it will be facing second down and seven or eight most of the night.
It is a relatively small and largely ignored number, but this one may be the real key to victory for the Tide.