Return of the Man? continues its "10 for a Title" series examining 10 crucial game elements necessary for Notre Dame if the Irish are to earn a BCS Championship victory over Alabama. Next in the series: the need for the Irish backfield tandem to meet the challenge of the Tide's dynamic duo.

Only six players in Notre Dame history have rushed for more yards in a season than Cierre Wood. The mercurial Irish senior is one year removed from that 1,102-yard, 9-touchdown effort, and despite flashes of brilliance throughout 2012, Wood never regained the consistency in his approach, production, or apparently the trust of his coaching staff that he rightfully claimed as the lead 'back last year.

"I think it goes right back to the theory of doing what we feel is best for this football team," said running backs coach Tony Alford. "Everyone has to understand what their role is and when it comes time to produce, those are things you have to go do. And you may not get all the carries you want but at the end of the day you look at it and say, 'We're 12-0. We're an undefeated football team. And if that's what we need to do to be successful football team, then that's what we're going to do."

There's little argument that Theo Riddick's no-nonsense, battering ram style displayed throughout 2012 fits perfectly Notre Dame's offense. He has among the best hands on the team, might have the quickest feet, and brings more north-south power than does Wood.

But Monday night in Sun Life Stadium, the Irish will need both 'backs to perform at a high level. The Cierre Wood that showed up in Los Angeles against USC (8 carries, 20 inconsequential yards, and far less urgency than that displayed by Riddick) won't gain a yard vs. the vicious Crimson Tide defense.

But the Wood that offered a dominant fourth quarter effort at Michigan State...the Wood that brought a spark in the final period vs. Stanford's previously impenetrable front seven...and the Wood that showcased his talents in explosive outings vs Miami and Wake Forest, not to mention a game-changing burst vs. Oklahoma -- that's the Wood the Irish need, in tandem with the reliable Riddick, to take down the Tide in South Beach.

Evening the Odds

Pittsburgh's Ray Graham. Stanford's Stepfan Taylor. And maybe if I'm generous, Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell.

The above represent running backs Notre Dame's defense has faced this season with comparable talent to Alabama sophomore Eddie Lacy (1,182 yards, 16 TD) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (1,000/11). Of course, the feather in the Crimson Tide's cap by point of comparison is that their 'backs work in bruising tandem.

"They're both really good. They seem hard to bring down, they have great leg drive and are both really physical runners," said Irish inside linebacker Dan Fox of the pair. "They're both in the top five of running backs for me (over the last two years as a starter). From what I've seen on film, I'm impressed."

As a point of reference, the Lacy (6'1" 220) and Yeldon (6'2" 216) duo is akin to facing Stanford's Taylor and PIttsburgh's Graham in the same backfield. The pair pounded Georgia to the tune of 181 and 153 yards respectively, with three combined touchdowns in the 2012 season's "national semi-final," the SEC Championship game.

Notre Dame needs to give the Tide a dose of its own medicine with a heaping helping of Riddick and Wood in tandem -- neither is the type of runner that should carry the ball 25 times in a contest, especially against a stout front seven, but both would benefit from 15-plus carries to augment the rushing efforts of quarterback Everett Golson, and a necessary play-action passing attack that will be featured by both sidelines.

Wood carried 70 fewer times than did Riddick but gained just 140 less yards. Conversely, Riddick caught 31 more passes than Wood (and was targeted for a whopping 49 more), and led the team with 17 third-downs converted to first down in 18 attempts. He likewise paced the squad with a combined 64 total first downs and team-best six scores.

The Irish have proven they can win relying on Riddick; he'll bring his A-game to Miami. But winning the most important game of the season vs. what is doubtless Notre Dame's toughest foe will require Wood to be at his best as well.

(Note: Click the links below for the first two game keys in our "10 for a Title" series):

#1 Hit for one score from outside the red zone

#2 Plus-One Turnovers Top Stories