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BCS national championship preview: Alabama vs. Notre Dame

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

BCS national championship

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 1 Notre Dame

When » Monday, 8:30 p.m.

Where » Sun Life Stadium,

Miami Gardens, Fla.

TV » ESPN

Key storyline

1 Dominance of Alabama and the SEC » Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are attempting to make history. No team has won three BCS titles in four years. How rare is it to put together such a run? Since the Associated Press began voting in 1936, Notre Dame (1946-47, 1949) is the only team to capture the top ranking three times in four years. In addition, Alabama is aiming to extend the SEC title streak to seven years. Other BCS winners from the SEC were Auburn (2011), Florida (2008, 2006) and LSU (2007).

2 Defense » Notre Dame (10.3 points per game) and Alabama (10.7 ppg) have allowed the fewest points in the FBS by a wide margin. The only other time the BCS title game featured the top two scoring defenses was last year when Alabama (8.1 ppg) faced LSU (11.3) and produced the only shutout in BCS history, with the Tide winning 21-0. Whether this is a trend or a statistical anomaly, this much is clear: In an era of spread offenses and increased scoring, defense still wins at the highest level.

3 Rise of the Irish » The return of Notre Dame to national prominence has awoken a dormant fan base, accounting for unprecedented demand for tickets. On StubHub on Sunday, the least expensive upper- and lower-level tickets were listed at $850 and $1,050, respectively. This is the first BCS title game for Notre Dame. The last time the Fighting Irish won a national championship was 1988. Is Monday night a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Notre Dame fans, or is the program finally back?

KEY MATCHUPS

Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon

With Yeldon (6.5 yards per carry) and Eddie Lacy (6.4), Alabama was one of just two FBS teams with a pair of 1,000-yard running backs.

vs.

Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o

Led by Butkus Award winner Te'o (103 tackles), the Notre Dame defense has limited opponents to 3.2 yards per rush and 92.4 rushing yards per game.

Alabama LB C.J. Mosley

He doesn't play every down, but he was named a first-team All-American and was voted the Crimson Tide's MVP by his teammates.

vs.

Notre Dame QB Everett Golson

The redshirt freshman struggled with accuracy early but improved rapidly. He has lots of mobility but has never been in a game of this magnitude.

Alabama QB AJ McCarron

He threw 26 touchdown passes and three interceptions, ranking second in the nation in pass efficiency (173.1) and shedding his "game manager" tag.

vs.

Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt

The most disruptive of the players in the Irish front seven is the 6-foot-6, 303-pound Tuitt, who leads the team in sacks (12) and forced fumbles (three).

STATE OF THE TEAMS

Alabama

After losing six defensive players to the first five rounds of the NFL Draft, the Crimson Tide have held teams to a nation's best 246 yards per game. A loss to Texas A&M on Nov. 10 seemingly ended Alabama's BCS hopes, but defeats by Kansas State and Oregon the following week and a clutch victory over Georgia in the SEC title game put Alabama back in the BCS final.

Notre Dame

In his third season at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has rebuilt the Irish with a big, fast, SEC-style defense that the program has lacked since the departure of Lou Holtz in 1996. While hardly overwhelming opponents, Notre Dame has gone undefeated with the help of an offense that committed only 14 turnovers and through good fortune. Five wins came by seven or fewer points.

EXAMINER PREDICTS

Alabama is a 10-point favorite, but the Crimson Tide showed cracks late in the year in losing to Texas A&M and giving up 28 points to Georgia in the SEC title game. An injury to All-American center Barrett Jones, who was in a walking boot Thursday, is cause for concern as this game will be decided at the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame 17, Alabama 14

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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