NEW YORK – On one side, a blossoming dynasty from the college football capital of the Deep South. On the other, the sport’s most famous team, trying to reclaim its place among the elite.
Notre Dame and Alabama bring star power and power football to the BCS championship.
The matchup became official Sunday night when the final standings were released and, to no one’s surprise, the Fighting Irish were first and the Crimson Tide were second.
The one bit of drama on college football’s selection Sunday was whether Northern Illinois could be this year’s BCS buster. The Huskies got in, getting a spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida State, taking a bid away from Oklahoma and sparking heated debate about a system that never fails to tick off fans in some way.
The other BCS matchups:
• Oregon and Kansas State will play in the Fiesta Bowl.
• Wisconsin and Stanford will meet in the Rose Bowl.
• Florida and Louisville are set for the Sugar Bowl.
As for the main event in the penultimate Bowl Championship Series, there was little controversy about No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 2 Alabama in Miami.
“The tradition of Alabama and Notre Dame brings special attention to it, but we’re just trying to be the best team on Monday, Jan. 7,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday night. “All of that tradition, what’s happened in the past, is not going to help us Jan. 7, but we do respect the traditions.”
The Irish clinched their spot a week ago in Los Angeles by completing a perfect season against rival Southern California.
Alabama earned its spot Saturday, beating Georgia 32-28 in a thrilling Southeastern Conference title game.
The program that coach Paul Bryant turned into an SEC behemoth in the 1960s and 70s, winning five national championships and sharing another during his tenure, is again dominating college football with a modern-day version of the Bear leading the way in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are on the verge of one of the great runs in history. Alabama would become the first team to repeat as champs since the BCS was implemented in 1998, and it would be the 11th time a team has won consecutive AP titles since the poll started in 1936. Alabama is already one of seven programs to repeat. The Tide has done it twice. Notre Dame is another.
Alabama also won the 2009 BCS championship under Saban. The last team to win three major national titles in four seasons was Nebraska, which went back-to-back in 1994 and ‘95 and finished No. 1 in the final coaches’ poll in 1997.
Notre Dame will try to become the first team since BYU in 1984 to start the season unranked and win a national title.
Expect plenty of fans to be watching. With the popularity of both programs, the second-to-last BCS title game is expected to be the highest rated ever. Though it might be hard for many fans to choose. While there are plenty of fans tired of watching the SEC win championships, Notre Dame has always been the program people love to hate.
“I don’t know if we picked up any more fans along the way,” Kelly said.
In two years, college football switches to a four-team playoff to determine its champion. No doubt fans of Florida (11-1), Oregon (11-1), Stanford (11-2) and Kansas State (11-1) wish they could push the start date up on that, but for the most part there isn’t much griping about this championship matchup.
Notre Dame is the only undefeated team that is eligible – thanks to Ohio State’s NCAA sanctions – and Alabama is the champion of the league that has produced the last half-dozen national champs.
Roll Tide or return to glory? To be determined in South Florida.