George Schroeder, USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta says he is looking forward to playing "real football" when the Irish face Alabama on Monday for the Bowl Championship Series national title. His intent was to differentiate from the high-octane pinball that has swept through college football.
Instead of a clash of contrasts - if, say, Oregon found its way into the game against either Notre Dame or Alabama - we're more likely to see a slugfest reminiscent of CBS' Southeastern Conference game of the week.
"You look at the SEC and at the teams playing for national championships - and obviously Alabama is leading that charge - they're built on defense," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says.
So is his team. The Irish might be the nation's best, helping to produce this amazing statistic: Notre Dame allowed two rushing touchdowns all season. Two.
"There's some physical guys that have great toughness and make some great licks," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban says. "They play great as a team."
The result is something akin to a mirror image. Give the experience edge, though, to Alabama, which is gunning for its third crystal football in four years.
Here is how we see the matchups when the teams take the field in Miami Gardens, Fla.:
Who has the edge?
When Notre Dame runs: Theo Riddick (880 yards, 4.9-yard average), who moved from receiver near the end of last season, Cierre Wood (740, 6.7) and George Atkinson III (361, 7.1) combine to propel a solid ball-control running game that has fueled the Irish offense. The Tide have the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, allowing 79.8 yards a game. EDGE: Alabama
When Notre Dame passes: Everett Golson is an evolving threat (58.9% completion rate, 2,135 yards). Led by Nagurski Trophy finalist Dee Milliner, a junior cornerback, Alabama is almost as stingy against the pass as the run, allowing 6 yards an attempt. EDGE: Alabama
When Alabama runs: Eddie Lacy (6.4 yards a carry) and T.J. Yeldon (6.5) are 1,000-yard rushers this season. Alabama averages 224.6 yards behind perhaps the nation's best offensive line. Notre Dame has allowed two rushing touchdowns all season, and opponents averaged 92.4 yards on the ground. EDGE: Notre Dame
When Alabama passes: AJ McCarron has been a playmaker, leading the nation in passing efficiency. Freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper gives the Tide a big-play threat. If the Irish are susceptible defensively, it's in the secondary. EDGE: Alabama
Special teams: Alabama's Jeremy Shelley is 63-for-63 on extra points and 11-for-11 on field goals. On longer kicks, Cade Foster is 4-for-9, with three of at least 50 yards. Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza is 23-for-31 on field goals. Both punters are solid. EDGE: Even
Coaching: Brian Kelly won the NCAA Division II championship at Grand Valley State and guided Cincinnati to two BCS bowls. In his third season at Notre Dame, he has returned the Irish to national prominence. In his sixth season at Alabama, Nick Saban is carving out the type of iconic status previously reserved for Bear Bryant. Saban, who led LSU to the BCS title in the 2003 season, is aiming for his third BCS crown in the last four seasons with the Tide. EDGE: Alabama
It has been a magical season in South Bend, where after years of mediocrity - at least by Notre Dame's lofty standards - the Irish have finally, improbably, climbed to the top. Alabama is on the verge of building a modern dynasty within the nation's best conference. Though the Crimson Tide have been exposed a bit in the second half of the season, they have enough to extend the SEC's domination of college football. The pick: Alabama 20-17
Last year's winner: Alabama
The Crimson Tide pulled the first shutout in the Bowl Championship Series' 14-year, 62-game history, beating LSU 21-0 and holding the Tigers to five first downs and 92 yards. LSU crossed midfield once as Alabama won its second national title in three years. Trent Richardson rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown, and Tide quarterback AJ McCarron completed 23 of 34 pass attempts for 234 yards to win offensive MVP. Alabama's Jeremy Shelley kicked five field goals.
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