Since the dawn of the BCS era, this is the game many of us have been waiting for. “We” being the purists of the game.
Don’t get me wrong, USC and Texas was great and deserves a spot among the top games in the history of the sport. Ohio State and Miami also etched a classic between college football powers. But Monday night something different will be in the air in Miami. The aura of college football history filling Sun Life Stadium may go uncontested for years, or decades before anything close to this match-up develops again as we transition in to the era of a four-team playoff.
Notre Dame. Alabama. This is college football history at its finest. Storied college football programs go toe-to-toe for the ultimate prize, and if that does not get you excited about the sport, then what possibly could?
We’re talking about two programs with a combined total of 25 claimed national championships and 1,691 total wins.
The Four Horsemen. Win one for the Gipper. The Golden Domers and Touchdown Jesus.
The Bear. Goal Line Stand. The Kick. The most bowl victories in college football history.
These are two programs who were among college football’s elite on a routine basis in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. They started to fall back to the pack a little bit in the 1990s, leaving fan bases either starving for a return to glory or stuck in their old ways believing their favorite programs could still do no wrong and it would only be a matter of when, not if their school would get back to the top.
Alabama has been back on top of the college football world for a few years now after a long-awaited return to such national prominence. The hiring of Nick Saban resurrected the program and brought Alabama back to a point where winning SEC titles is not a goal, but an expectation that is penciled in at the beginning of the season.
Notre Dame is hoping that this season marks the beginning of a similar level of success. Despite running the table with a 12-0 record, holding the top spot in the polls and BCS standings, road victories at Oklahoma and USC along with home wins against Michigan, Stanford and BYU, the Fighting Irish are a decided underdog against the Crimson Tide, the defending BCS champions.
But Monday night will not be Joe Montana vs. Joe Namath. It is not Knute Rockne vs. Bear Bryant. It is not even Rudy vs. Forest Gump (Forest Gump an easy 13 point favorite in a neutral theater by the way).
When the game kicks off history will be just another backstory with no impact on the game itself.
Instead it is Manti Te’o vs. AJ McCarron.
It is Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon against Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III.
It is the battle of wits between Brian Kelly and Nick Saban.
Our lone problem with the game is having two programs that will be regarded by many as “the bad guys.” Notre Dame’s national fanbase perks up most when the Irish are playing well. When the Irish are down, the fans you never hear from are as silent as ever. But go 8-0, 9-0, 10-0 or 12-0 and they’ll be sure to wear their ND hats and jackets and sweatshirts, letting you know they are lifelong fans at will.
Alabama may not be considered a “bad guy” as a program, but they represent the SEC, a conference resembling the Death Star looking to obliterate entire planets standing in its way to another BCS championship. Chants of “S-E-C!” have been well earned all throughout the conference, annoying opposing fans from coast to coast, and perhaps most notably in the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC.
Hey, if you don’t like the “S-E-C!” chants, stop them. You’re on Notre Dame, as much as some fans may feel a need to take a shower afterward.
To the casual fan, Notre Dame vs. Alabama is like the Los Angeles Lakers taking on the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. In fact, it is exactly like that, with two of the most storied teams taking center stage for the ultimate prize. If you put bias aside here, there are many positive players an stories to root for. Manti Te’o and Barett Jones represent the finest role models in the sport. Seeing them each take the field at the same time should be a reward for fans who have endured dark times in the sport.
The theme of the night early on should be the hard-nosed defenses with offenses who may need to rely on the ground game. This is not going to be an extravagant display of offense, a disappointment to the casual college football fan mesmerized by point-a-minute offenses. This has all the makings of a classic battle between classic programs. The golden helmets vs the crimson helmets with white numbers.
No glitzy uniforms that glow in the dark or reflect light that changes depending on the angle (oh, but there will be new uniforms and shiny helmets). No high, up-tempo offenses designed to run 100 plays per game. Where the game lacks in speed it makes up for in brute force. This will be football the way it was meant to be played.
And I’m going to love every second of it.
My Key Player to the Game: Everett Golson, Notre Dame Quarterback
I could talk all day about Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. Great player with a great story. If Notre Dame wins, Te’o will surely play a key role in all of it so please do not misunderstand what I am saying here. For me, Notre Dame will win or lose this game depending on the play from their quarterback, Everett Golson.
There is nothing particularly special about Golson from a quarterback standpoint. His passing is average and his numbers will not do much to impress. But in a game like this I look for Notre Dame’s defense to keep the game within a manageable position from start to finish, and perhaps give the offense a chance to take advantage of a short field in a key position. That puts the game in Golson’s hands.
Golson does not need to play a perfect game against Notre Dame, but he does need to avoid making mistakes. Alabama is a team that will take advantage of their forced mistakes. Whether or not Notre Dame can do the same will be the key. Golson will be the player that needs to capitalize when given any rare opportunities Te’o, Nix and Tuitt serve up.
This has been a problem for Notre Dame this year. Inside the red zone, Notre Dame ranked 79th in the nation in scoring percentage by converting on just 79.31 percent of their red zone possessions. In 58 red zone trips, Notre Dame scored 27 touchdowns (119th touchdown percentage inside the red zone in the country) and kicked 19 field goals. To further complicate things, Alabama ranked first in the nation in opponent red zone scoring percentage, allowing just 14 touchdowns and 3 field goals on 27 red zone attempts.
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