After over 40 days of studying, practicing and waiting, the dream national championship game is finally here. Tonight, college football juggernauts Notre Dame and Alabama will duel in a game that nobody expected on day one of the season.
Alabama finds itself in its second straight BCS title game and head coach Nick Saban is going for his third national title in four seasons. After an upset loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide managed to win the SEC and found its way back into the title game.
Notre Dame arrives to Miami trying to win its first national title in 25 years. Third year coach Brian Kelly comes in with a redshirt freshman quarterback and one of the strongest defensive units in college football, led by Manti Te'o. After scares against Pittsburgh and Stanford, the Irish managed to go through the regular season unscathed and tonight is seeking perfection.
There are many matchups and storylines to look for in this national title game. Here are five key questions that will be answered in one of the most hyped championship games in college football history.
This will be the biggest matchup of the evening.
Alabama must establish the run in order to get quarterback AJ McCarron into a rhythm. The Crimson Tide averaged about 224.6 yards per game on the ground and running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon both rushed for over a thousand yards.
Alabama's offensive line will face its toughest test of the year in the vaunted Notre Dame front seven. The Irish have Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o at the helm of its defense, but Kapron Lewis-Moore and Louis Nix are also two players who could have futures in the NFL.
The Irish ranked fourth in rushing defense, allowing just 92.4 yards per game on the ground. Many have hailed the Notre Dame front seven as the best in college football.
Alabama's duo of Lacy and Yeldon and the Tide's offensive line will be the toughest group the Irish defense has seen all year. If Alabama can run the ball effectively, McCarron could be lethal on play-action passes. If the Irish can limit the Tide's running attack, the Crimson Tide could be forced to rely on the arm of McCarron more than they want to.
Notre Dame allowed only two rushing touchdowns all season, and how they perform against Lacy and Yeldon could determine who goes home as national champions.
Everett Golson is the ultimate X-factor in this game.
As a redshirt freshman, Golson threw for over 2,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. But, most importantly, he threw only five interceptions. Golson also has the ability to make plays with his legs, running for 305 yards and five scores.
Aside from a poor performance at home against Michigan, Golson has been very steady in his freshman season, posting a quarterback rating of at least 100 in every game other than against Michigan.
Alabama will have to confuse Golson with blitz schemes and coverages. This is arguably the toughest defense the freshman has seen all season, and Nick Saban may have some new wrinkles that could force the young quarterback into some mistakes.
Alabama will also need to contain Golson if the play breaks down. Golson could keep drives alive with his running ability and keep the Crimson Tide's star running backs off the field.
If Golson has a big game, the Fighting Irish will be on their way to a championship, but if he struggles, Alabama will win its second straight national title.
McCarron quietly had a very solid season for the Tide. McCarron tossed 26 touchdowns with only three interceptions and also had the second highest quarterback rating in college football at 173.1. Like Golson, McCarron will rely on his running game to open up some holes in the secondary. Where McCarron could be a concern is in the play-action. If Notre Dame struggles to stop the run, McCarron could suck the safeties in with a fake and beat them deep to freshman Amari Cooper.
Notre Dame's secondary isn't bad, but it is susceptible. The Irish allowed a completion percentage of just under 60 percent but only for an average of 5.8 yards per completion. The Irish only allowed seven touchdowns through the air but haven't played against many good quarterbacks.
Alabama is a run first team, but if McCarron can chip in with some big throws and keep the Irish guessing the Crimson Tide could knock off Notre Dame.
Notre Dame's offense is not very explosive, averaging just 26.8 points per game. The Irish scored more than 30 points just four times over the course of the season but scored 22 points or fewer six times.
Brian Kelly's offense is facing the toughest defense it has seen all year and will need to find some big plays to keep up.
Theo Riddick was the team's top player on offense in 2012. Riddick rushed 180 times for 880 yards and five scores, to go along with 35 receptions. Riddick's backfield mate, Cierre Wood, pitched in with 740 yards and five scores.
Tight end Tyler Eifert is the team's top target and could provide some matchup problems for Alabama. Unfortunately for the Irish, Alabama allows an average of only 166 yards per game through the air.
The Fighting Irish will need to rely on their two-headed monster of Riddick and Wood in order to generate points. Like Alabama, Notre Dame's offense will need to run the ball effectively to help Golson complete passes and settle his nerves.
Brian Kelly has done one of the best coaching jobs in all of college football this season.
In three years at South Bend, Kelly has led the Fighting Irish to a 28-10 record, including an undefeated 2012 campaign.
Kelly, an offensive guru, will have his hands full trying to find a way to score points against Alabama. His Irish do not boast a very potent offense, averaging just over 421 yards per game and scoring an average of 26.8 points per game. However, Kelly has done a great job of developing young quarterback Everett Golson over the course of the season.
Kelly also has to find a way to stop Alabama's strong running game. He has built one of the toughest defensive units in college football and has motivated his team to rise above the adversity they have faced throughout the season.
Kelly will be coaching against one of the greatest coaches in college football history, Nick Saban. For Saban, the national championship game is "been there, done that." Saban will be appearing in his fourth title game in the last eight years. He's undefeated in his previous three appearances.
In order for Kelly to knock off Saban and the Crimson Tide, he will need to find a way to shut down Alabama's running game while finding a way to create big plays on offense.
Kelly could cement his legacy in Notre Dame lore by winning the school's first national title since 1988. But to do so, he will have to outcoach one of the best coaches in the game.