MIAMI — Sometimes, the buildup to a game can overwhelm what actually happens on the field.
Certainly, No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama would have to play nothing less than a classic to live up to all the hype for tonight’s BCS championship.
Before either team stepped on the field in balmy South Florida, this was shaping up as one of the most anticipated games in years, a throwback to the era when Keith Jackson & Co. called one game a week, when it was a big deal for teams from different parts of the country to meet in a bowl game, when everyone took sides based on where they happened to live.
North vs. South. Rockne vs. Bear. Rudy vs. Forrest Gump.
The Fighting Irish vs. the Crimson Tide.
College football’s two most storied programs, glorified in movie and song, facing off for the biggest prize.
“It’s definitely not any other game,” said Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.
For the Crimson Tide (12-1), this is a chance to be remembered as a full-fledged dynasty. Alabama will be trying to claim its third national championship in four years and become the first school to win back-to-back BCS titles, a remarkable achievement given the ever-increasing parity of the college game and having to replace five players from last season’s title team who were picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.
“To be honest, I think this team has kind of exceeded expectations,” coach Nick Saban said Sunday. “If you look at all the players we lost last year, the leadership that we lost I’m really proud of what this team was able to accomplish.”
That said, it’s not a huge surprise to find Alabama playing for another title. That’s not the case when it comes to Notre Dame.
Despite their impressive legacy, the Fighting Irish (12-0) weren’t even ranked at the start of the season. But overtime wins against Stanford and Pittsburgh, combined with three other victories by seven points or fewer, gave Notre Dame a shot at its first national title since 1988.
After so many lost years, the golden dome has reclaimed its luster in coach Brian Kelly’s third season.
“It starts with setting a clear goal for the program,” Kelly said. “Really, what is it? Are we here to get to a bowl game, or are we here to win national championships? So the charge immediately was to play for championships and win a national championship.”
Kelly molded Notre Dame using largely the same formula that has worked so well for Saban in Tuscaloosa: a bruising running game and a stout defense, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te’o.
While points figure to be at a premium given the quality of both defenses, Alabama appears to have a clear edge on offense. The Tide has the nation’s highest-rated passer (AJ McCarron), two 1,000-yard rushers (Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon), a dynamic freshman receiver (Amari Cooper), and three linemen who made the AP All-America team (first-teamers Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack, plus second-teamer D.J. Fluker).
“This is, to me, the ultimate match-up in college football,” said Brent Musberger, the lead announcer for ESPN.
bcs championship game
Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0), 5:30 p.m. (ESPN), Sun Life Stadium, Miami
What’s at stake: Alabama is going for its third national championship in four years and trying to become the first school to win back-to-back BCS titles. Notre Dame is seeking its first national championship since 1988. Both schools are trying to take over the lead for the most times finishing atop The Associated Press rankings, coming into the game tied at eight.
Key matchup: Notre Dame’s stifling defense, which has allowed only two rushing touchdowns all season, against Alabama’s bruising ground game. The Crimson Tide has a pair of 1,000 yards rushers in Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon, who combined for 334 yards in a 32-28 victory over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Notre Dame has surrendered only 92.4 yards per game on the ground, and just two players rushed for more than 100 yards against the Irish. LB Manti Te’o leads the team in tackles (103) and interceptions (seven).
Players to watch: For Alabama – WR Amari Cooper may become the Crimson Tide’s best weapon if the running game bogs downs. The dynamic freshman had 53 receptions and nine touchdowns, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch.
For Notre Dame – QB Everett Golson, essentially a redshirt freshman, has developed from a timid play-caller at the start of the season to a seasoned leader who has earned the respect of his teammates. Golson has the ability to move the ball with his arm (59 percent completions, 2,135 yards passing, 11 touchdowns) and his legs (305 yards rushing, five TDs).
The pick: Alabama repeats: Crimson Tide 20, Irish 13. McClatchy news services