It’s here, it’s finally game day.
Two of the most storied college football programs will be squaring off at Sun Life Stadium as the Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
It's a matchup that’s more intriguing than last year’s BCS National Championship (Alabama vs. LSU). The Irish have seemingly returned to the glory days, as they will be going for their first national championship since 1988.
On the other side, the dynasty that is Alabama football will be trying to capture their third title in the last four years. A feat that’s never been reached in the BCS era, the Crimson Tide could cement themselves as the most dominant program in recent college football history.
However, it’s the Irish who will be pushing towards perfection coming in as the Nation’s No. 1-ranked team with an undefeated record.
In a season filled with wild games, Notre Dame has prevailed through each and every one of them. The three-point wins against Purdue and BYU and the goal-line stand versus Stanford. And who could forget the triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh?
With a dominating defense, Notre Dame has suffocated opponents, holding Michigan to six points and both Oklahoma and Rose Bowl champion Stanford to 13 points each. The Golden Domers also became just the fifth team to beat Sooners in Norman, OK since 1999.
Everett Golson has also progressed throughout the season, turning into a solid, young quarterback for the Irish. Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick issued a challenge to the Tide's defensive backfield, according to Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com.
—Ivan Maisel (@Ivan_Maisel) January 4, 2013
As if Alabama wasn’t frothing at the mouth already, Riddick's comment certainly will provide nice bulletin board material for Nick Saban.
While Notre Dame has accomplished so much this season, you can’t overlook what the Crimson Tide did this year.
Opening up with a dominating win over Michigan in week one, Alabama reeled off nine consecutive wins, including a four-point victory over LSU in Death Valley. A loss to Texas A&M derailed them a bit, but Saban rallied the troops, as the Tide won the SEC Championship over a then-No.3 Georgia squad.
Alabama's lethal ground attack is anchored by a veteran offensive line, which has set the tone in games throughout the season. Manti Te’o will have his hands full trying to wrap up Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, but there's no doubt that the senior linebacker will be ready in his final game wearing the Blue and Gold.
Notre Dame wins if
Golson performs like an All-American. There’s no question Alabama’s defense will be the toughest Golson has faced all year. In order to beat the Tide, though, Golson will have to make pinpoint throws, connect on deep balls and, most importantly, keep the chains moving on third down.
It’ll be a tall task for the sophomore quarterback, but it can be done. Remember, a redshirt freshman quarterback took the Crimson Tide down earlier this year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish need to shut down the running game and force AJ McCarron to pass. McCarron’s success comes off the Tide's strong running game, and in Bama’s lone loss this season, McCarron threw a season-high 34 times. If the Irish can limit Alabama’s success on the ground, they’ll have a good shot at slowing down the offense all together.
Alabama wins if
Its defense pressures Golson and forces turnovers like they’ve done all year.
The Crimson Tide have forced 28 total turnovers this year, with 17 of those being interceptions. Going up against a young QB and having weeks to prepare, Saban will throw the kitchen sink at Golson and force him to win with his arm.
On offense, Alabama cannot get away from their running attack. Alabama shredded the Georgia defense in the SEC Championship for 350 yards on the ground. If Lacy and Yeldon can match that performance, there is zero shot they lose.
It’s also important for Alabama to get out to an early lead and put pressure on Notre Dame. With an early lead it’ll be Sweet Home Alabama, as Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will pin their ears back and let their defense bring home another national championship.
This matchup should give every college football fan chills. It’s not often that these two helmets line up on the same field. Two programs that have combined for 25 national championships and 8 Heisman Trophy winners meet on the biggest stage in college football.
Will Nick Saban add a 15th title to Alabama's legacy, or will Brian Kelly Wake up the Echoes and raise the crystal ball for the Irish?
The game plans are ready, the teams are focused, and the countdown has begun to the biggest college football game of the year.