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Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)
8 p.m. Jan. 7, ESPN
Last bowl appearances: Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14 (2011 Champs Sports); Alabama 21, LSU 0 (2011 BCS Championship)
Last meeting/series: Notre Dame 37, Alabama 6 (1987); Notre Dame leads series 5-1.
2013 draft prospects: Notre Dame, LB Manti Te'o, DT Louis Nix, RB Cierre Woods, TE Tyler Eifert, OC Braxston Cave, FS Zeke Motta, DT Kapron Lewis-Moore, RB Theo Riddick; Alabama, OG Chance Warmack, OC Barrett Jones, OT D.J. Fluker, QB A.J. McCarron, RB Eddie Lacy, CB Dee Milliner, FS Robert Lester, DT Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, TE Michael Williams, DE Quinton Dial, LB C.J. Mosley
Reasons to watch: The fact this is for all the marbles isn't enough? Two of college football's most storied programs meeting for the national title is absolutely primetime worthy. For some, finding someone to cheer for in this game is like decided which is the lesser of two evils.
By now, everyone knows the story of the two teams. Alabama is trying to become college football's latest great dynasty. The Crimson Tide right now are that team you've spent hours upon hours building into a powerhouse on NCAA Football '13. The team is so good that you don't have to put any effort into recruiting and national championships at the end of each season are just expected. That's what Nick Saban has now built at Alabama.
On the other hand, Notre Dame is that program you couldn't ever quite get past eight wins. But something clicked for the Irish this season. Brian Kelly did the unthinkable and has the Irish back in the national title picture. It seems like the perfect storm for Notre Dame. The Irish simply have the right pieces together for this season. No one is expecting them to be in the spot again next year.
The same can't be said about Alabama. There are national title expectations for the Tide every season.
Everyone understands what Manti Te'o means to Notre Dame. Te'o just completed one of the most impressive seasons for a defensive player in college football history. There's no doubt he's the Irish's MVP, and it's easy to understand the arguments that Te'o should have won the Heisman. He's the reason Notre Dame has allowed just 10.33 points per game this season and rank fifth in total offense. Only one team topped 20 points against the Irish, and Pitt needed three overtimes to get to 26.
Alabama was similarly dominant on defense. The Tide allowed just two teams two score more than 17 points against them and had four shutouts. However, Texas A&M and Georgia did show some weaknesses in Alabama's armor, but it took outstanding performances from the likes of Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and impressive RB Todd Gurley for it to happen. The Irish have an impressive ground game at times, but it's not good enough to move the ball consistently against Alabama. Notre Dame doesn't have a player on offense as explosive as either of those two.
Alabama certainly has more available to it to break through Notre Dame's defense. Junior RB Eddie Lacy has been explosive late in the season and A.J. McCarron remains underrated despite being one of the most efficient QBs in the nation.
Prediction: Alabama 21, Notre Dame 17 -- The SEC's reign over college football continues and Alabama further establishes its dynasty.
It's common coach speak to say a game will be won or lost in the trenches. That's not always true in college football because of wide open offenses taking away some of the importance on the line play. But that term couldn't have ever applied more than it does in this situation.
Neither team runs a completely wide open offense, and even if they did, both teams have such dominant players along their
respective offensive and defensive fronts they can't be factored out of the equation.
Alabama might have the best offensive line in the country, although Texas A&M would love to debate that. But OG Chance Warmack will be a first-round pick, while OC Barrett Jones has a chance to also go in the opening round of April's draft. OT D.J. Fluker could be a late first-rounder as well. But, Notre Dame is just as impressive on its defensive front.
Besides Te'o in the front seven, there's Louis Nix and Kapron Lewis-Moore at DT, while Stephon Tuitt is one of the best DEs in the country as a sophomore.
'Bama's front-seven is impressive in its own right with LBs Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley and DT Jesse Williams. Yet it comes down to two things.
First, Notre Dame's OL is not nearly as impressive, and second, Alabama is more capable of big plays to get points on the board and its QB doesn't make mistakes under pressure. The same can't be said of Notre Dame QB Everett Golson, who is just too limited at times.