The 2012-13 college football postseason concludes Monday night as No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama collide in the BCS national championship game in Miami.
Let's take a look at some of the most important aspects of this matchup between the Fighting Irish and the Crimson Tide.
Notre Dame (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1) at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
• Creativity with Golson: As much as the discussion has centered on Alabama's difficulty in the Nick Saban era against dual-threat quarterbacks, including Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel, all three of those signal-callers actually hurt the Crimson Tide more through the air than on the ground. Manziel, of course, might be the exception, although he fared well through the air as well. The advantage for dual-threats against a defense as strong as Alabama is the ability to escape pressure, extend plays and even pick up first downs with their feet. For Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, it will be important to get Everett Golson comfortable early under center. Remember what the Crimson Tide did last year to LSU in the BCS title game? 'Bama OC Jim McElwain, who is now the head coach at Colorado State, had quarterback AJ McCarron constantly throwing safe yet efficient passes on first down. I think taking a page from the Tide might be smart for Kelly and Co. As good as this offense has been running the football, the Irish are not going to be able to win this game on the ground with Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson rushing on traditional run downs. But if the Irish keep Saban and Co. guessing by throwing on first and second downs, it may prompt a safety to drop back and out of the box. This would then give Golson an opportunity to use his legs and take advantage of one less defender being up front. It would also give the Irish backs more room to run.
• Alabama's deep threat: First-year Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's job has been pretty easy since he's been able to rely on stud running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon behind the best offensive line in the country. As we saw in the second half of the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, the Tide can take over a contest with their rushing attack. But Nussmeier has been able to make this offense more versatile and more creative because of the increased production from the receiver corps, which is led by star freshman Amari Cooper, whose 45-yard touchdown catch in the SEC title game helped get the Tide into position to defend their national title. Cooper recorded 53 receptions for 895 yards and nine touchdowns this fall, giving 'Bama a necessary deep threat to complement its dominant ground game. Irish corners Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell will face a tough task when either is lined up opposite the Alabama speedster.
• Something special: The Irish haven't been great in the return game this season. Kick returner George Atkinson III did run back two kicks for scores in 2011, though, and special teams could come into play Monday night, especially after such a long layoff. If the Crimson Tide are sloppy with their fundamentals and technique on kickoff coverage, we could see a big return such as the one by De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon to start the Fiesta Bowl. But Atkinson III has remained rather quiet in 2012. Meanwhile, Alabama sophomore Christion Jones has a 99-yard kickoff return for a score under his belt this season, and he averages 10.6 yards per punt return. And while the Tide doesn't settle for field goals often, senior Jeremy Shelley is perfect on 11 attempts inside of 40 yards and junior Cade Foster has made three of five beyond 50. The Irish, meanwhile, have a kicker in sophomore Kyle Brindza who went 5-of-6 in field goals against USC, but he does have five misses from 40 yards and in.
Other things to keep in mind:
- If Notre Dame's pass rushers can get to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, can the Fighting Irish create a game-changing turnover?
- Alabama cornerback Deion Belue is solid, but he is not a shutdown corner. Can Golson and the ND offense strike for a big play or two through the air?
- If Alabama remains patient, its offensive line could wear down the Notre Dame front seven. If the Tide O-Linemen can get out to the second level and get their bodies on Manti Te'o and the other ND linebackers as Pitt was able to do in the Panthers' near-win over the Irish, 'Bama should pull away in the second half.