WHAT’S AT STAKE
Alabama is going for its third national championship in four years and trying to become the first school to win back-to-back BCS titles. Notre Dame is seeking its first national championship since 1988. Both schools are trying to take over the lead for the most times finishing atop the Associated Press rankings, coming into the game tied at eight.
Notre Dame’s stifling defense, which has allowed only two rushing touchdowns all season, against Alabama’s bruising ground game. The Crimson Tide have a pair of 1,000 yards rushers in Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon, who combined for 334 yards in a 32-28 victory over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Notre Dame has surrendered only 92.4 yards per game on the ground, and just two players rushed for more than 100 yards against the Irish. LB Manti Te’o leads the team in tackles (103) and interceptions (seven).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Alabama: WR Amari Cooper may become the Crimson Tide’s best weapon if the running game bogs down. The dynamic freshman had 53 receptions and nine touchdowns, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch. Look for Alabama to work off play-action and take some shots down the field.
Notre Dame: QB Everett Golson, essentially a redshirt freshman, has developed from a timid play-caller at the start of the season to a seasoned leader who has earned the respect of his teammates. While coach Brian Kelly has scaled back some parts of his spread offense to cut down on potential mistakes, Golson has the ability to move the ball with his arm (59 percent completions, 2,135 yards passing, 11 touchdowns) and his legs (305 yards rushing, five TDs).
FACTS & FIGURES
The teams first met in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, a classic matchup in which Notre Dame claimed its second national title under coach Ara Parseghian with a 24-23 victory over Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide. … Their last meeting was in 1987, when Notre Dame romped to a 37-6 victory in South Bend. … The Fighting Irish won five times this season by a touchdown or less, including overtime triumphs over Stanford and Pittsburgh. … Alabama had four shutouts (Western Kentucky, Arkansas, Western Carolina, Auburn). … Notre Dame has a streak of nine straight bowl losses from 1995-2007, but the Irish have won two of their last three postseason games. … Alabama athletic director Mal Moore coached at Notre Dame in the 1980s under Gerry Faust. … The Crimson Tide have three All-Americans on the offensive line: first-teamers Barrett Jones at center and Chance Warmack at left guard, and second-teamer D.J. Fluker at right tackle. … Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly will be going for his 200th career victory.