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Notre Dame has not won a national title since 1988. Alabama has won three national titles in the last 20 years. Notre Dame claims 11 national titles. Alabama claims 14, and one of those is also claimed by Notre Dame. Two of the titans of college football meet for the BCS title, but all of the tradition and pageantry won't matter once kickoff comes.
So who wins? USA TODAY Sports Weekly asked Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com and Josh Ward of MrSEC.com to provide three reasons why the respective teams will win the championship.
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1. Golson getting better
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson made strides each week, from being pulled early in the season against Michigan to leading the Fighting Irish into Norman for a 30-13 upset of Oklahoma.
Alabama struggled against a young, mobile quarterback in its loss to Texas A&M, and while Golson is not Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, he is a mobile quarterback who has shown steady improvement and should continue to do so with a month of preparation for the championship game.
Alabama's defense is going to force Golson to beat the Tide. If he can hit a couple of deep throws the way he did vs. the Sooners, the Irish offense could put enough points on the board to come out on top.
2. Notre Dame's defense
The Irish defense has given up yards and long drives this season, but it hasn't given up long touchdown drives. The defense has built its reputation on forcing teams to drive the length of the field by eliminating big plays and relying on its stout red-zone defense (see games vs. Stanford and Southern California).
Notre Dame is second in the nation in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 64% of their possessions. (Alabama is No. 1 at 63%.) The Irish's ability to stop the run is a big factor, because opponents have fewer options with less room to operate.
Alabama has a long-drive type of offense, which should play right into Notre Dame's hands. If the Irish can prevent the Crimson Tide from converting long drives into seven points, Notre Dame will be in a position to win. Alabama has scored a touchdown on 41of 51 red-zone trips this season.
3. Embrace the role of underdog
All season, the Irish have heard that they aren't that good. Now that they are in the championship game and ranked No. 1, they are still close to a double-digit underdog and have been given little chance to pull off the upset.
College football is about emotion, and Notre Dame has played the card of being the underrated, underappreciated team all season.
The Irish shouldn't have any problem playing that card one more time after being told how tough and mighty the big, bad Southeastern Conference is.
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