BCS title game breakdown: ND-'Bama

Our experts break down the BCS National Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama.

BCS National Championship

No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama
Monday, 8 p.m. ET (in Miami)
CFN's BCS title game preview

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

By Tim O'Malley, IrishEyes.com

Three players to watch

Theo Riddick, RB -- He led the Irish in rushing yards, attempts, and total touchdowns while placing third in receptions and pass targets. Riddick carved out a team-best 67 first downs, 26 of which came on third-down snaps, either rushing or receiving.

Everett Golson, QB -- He was benched on four separate occasions -- for disparate reasond -- but rebounded to play his best football over the season's last five contests, producing a combined 1,402 rushing/passing yards and 10 touchdowns against two turnovers.

Louis Nix, OG -- The 6-foot-3, 300-something cat-quick junior will line heads up vs. All-American center Barrett Jones for the majority of the contest. For the first time this season, an opposing team's fan base believes its nose guard can get the best of Alabama's award-winning pivot. Nix represents a rarity for the program: an underrated Notre Dame player on a title-contending team.

Theo Riddick gives the Irish a threat out of the backfield to rival the Tide's RB duo.

Three strengths

Yards, not points. Notre Dame's defense allowed nine touchdowns this season, just one of which commenced from outside its red zone (in the opener vs. Navy). The Irish rush defense yielded but two scores, the lowest season-end number by a FBS school since the outset of the BCS in 1998. The Irish never allowed a team to score more than two touchdowns in a contest and held six foes without a touchdown. In four matchups vs. ranked teams (Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, and Oklahoma), Notre Dame's stout defense surrendered a total of one touchdown drive.

Matchup nightmare. John Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert spent much of his 2012 season as a boundary-side wide receiver, positioning that afforded the 6-foot-6, 251-pound senior to operate one-on-one vs. smaller defensive backs. Eifert uses his frame to shield cornerbacks and safeties from the football on short routes and his relative speed and body control to take linebackers downfield where he possesses a distinct advantage on contested passes.

Front four pass rush. Rarely forced to blitz because of the prowess of its defensive linemen, Notre Dame's back seven enjoys the luxury of soft zone coverage, one that keeps pass plays in front of them with the knowledge that at some point during an opponent's drive, the Irish front four will rise to the occasion to end the proceedings. Of the team's 34 sacks, 31 came from its eight-man rotation of defensive linemen, led by future NFLers Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and hybrid OLB/DE Prince Shembo.

Important thing you may not know

The Irish lead for a whopping 90.5 percent of game minutes during their 12-game slate, including the entirety of their first five contests. Notre Dame scored first in 11 of 12 games and notched the first touchdown in 11 of 12 outings as well (and never failed to score the first offensive touchdown of a contest).

Yet when Kelly's squad fell behind it responded, erasing a 14-point fourth quarter deficit vs. Pittsburgh and late-game touchdown hole against Rose Bowl champion Stanford.

What Notre Dame must do to win


Want more on the Fighting Irish? Get full team and recruiting coverage and much more at IrishEyes.com.

Notre Dame will be the best-tackling, most disciplined, singularly focused, and resilient team the defending champion Tide have faced during their 27-game, two-year run.

The fourth quarter has belonged to Kelly's Irish as a result and it can't break character in this contest -- intermixing play-action pass and getting Golson in space, all in an effort to augment a power running attack, must remain the offense's focus whether the Irish lead or trail by a score entering the final period.

Alabama Crimson Tide

By Kirk McNair, BamaMag.com

Three players to watch

A.J. McCarron, QB -- McCarron is a two-year starter with a 24-2 record, one BCS National Championship, one BCS MVP award, and statistically the most efficient passer (173.8) in the nation. 'Bama has had a few good quarterbacks in its history (Starr, Namath, Stabler, et. al.) and McCarron set the Crimson Tide record for touchdown passes this year with 26. He is completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,669 yards with only three interceptions.

C.J. Mosley, LB -- The 6-foot-2, 232-pound junior earned All-America as he leads Alabama with 99 tackles. (Second for the Tide had 56.) He also has seven tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions (one returned for one of his career 'Bama record three touchdown runbacks), two pass break-ups, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and was voted by his teammates as Alabama's MVP of 2012.

T.J. Yeldon, RB -- Although Eddie Lacy is the Tide's starter and has rushed for 1,182 yards (6.4 per carry) with 16 touchdowns, Tide opponents don't get much of a break when true freshman Yeldon (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) enters the game. Yeldon has rushed for 1,000 yards (6.5 yards per carry) with 11 touchdowns. Alabama has a fourth-quarter scoring advantage of 111-40.

Already a BCS champion, A.J. McCarron can cement his place in 'Bama lore with a win.

Three strengths

The offensive line of the Crimson Tide is widely regarded as the best in the nation and among the best in the history of college football. Leader of the group is center Barrett Jones, who has won the Outland and Rimington awards in his career. He and fellow senior, guard Chance Warmack, are projected as first-round draft choices, and all five are expected to play in the NFL.

Although Alabama lost tailback Trent Richardson as the third player picked in last year's NFL draft, and even though the Tide suffered injuries to two tailbacks in the early going, 'Bama tailback play with junior Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon has been very good. Alabama rushed for 224.6 yards per game, 20th in the nation.

Alabama is known for great defensive players, but the Tide's lofty defensive ranking is in great part because of Alabama's defensive strategy. Alabama is known as a 3-4 team, but the Tide is in that alignment only about 20 percent of the time. Before the snap, the Tide will have a total of about 15 players either on the field or prepared to go in as the opposing offense gets its personnel into the game. Alabama will immediately match that offensive grouping, the result being the Tide will often be in a 4-3, nickel, or dime with the possibility of a blitz coming from any of the linebacker or secondary spots. A no-huddle-hurry-up offense can disrupt the Tide strategy.

Important thing you may not know

Indeed, Alabama has good defensive players and defensive coaches (headed by Nick Saban) who have a good strategy. 'Bama ranks second in the nation in scoring defense (10.7 points per game) and first in total defense (246 yards per game). But against three top 10 teams (LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia) Alabama gave up 1,247 yards, over 400 per game. As a result, Bama lost at home to Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel and barely got by LSU on the road and Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. For the year, 'Bama was plus 13 in turnovers. In those three games the Tide were minus-6.

What Alabama must do to win


Want more on the Crimson Tide? Get full team and recruiting coverage and much more at BamaMag.com.

Alabama has been in this position before, most of the coaching staff and many of the players a part of the 2011 national championship team, several also a part of the 2009 title team. Although Notre Dame's best player is linebacker Manti Te'o, 'Bama wants to face him as much as possible, meaning keeping the ball for long drives that result in touchdowns.

If Alabama can run the ball, that opens up the passing. Defensively, 'Bama will want to take away the run and must keep Irish quarterback Everett Golson in the pocket. Psychologically, the Crimson Tide must believe it has to play its best game of the year.

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