By Brian Hamilton, Chicago Tribune reporter
10:16 PM EST, December 1, 2012
TV: 7 p.m. Jan. 7, Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.; ESPN.
Records: Alabama 12-1, Notre Dame 12-0.
Last meeting: Notre Dame won 37-6 on Nov. 14, 1987, in South Bend, Ind.
On the offensive: Little about either offensive philosophy rises to trickery or sleight-of-play-call. Both teams aim to punish the defense with a pair of productive tailbacks, then look for efficient quarterback play, though the Irish will spread things out a little more to do so.
Crimson Tide QB A.J. McCarron has thrown for 26 TDs with only three INTs and is the nation's second-most efficient passer. RBs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon — who combined for 337 yards Saturday — help ease the burden.
The Irish have a QB on the rise in Everett Golson but mostly rely on a line opening holes for Cierre Wood (74 yards per game) and Theo Riddick (73.3). Which line handles the opposing defensive front best might determine the outcome.
Getting defensive: Alabama and Notre Dame were No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring defense during the regular season, which tells anyone all they need to know about this matchup. It's essentially another SEC-on-SEC title game, as far as the defenses are concerned. Neither team has explosive, big-play threats on the perimeter thanks to injury, meaning it might be a test to see who can grind the best.
The Irish's chances revolve around DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix and the rest of the line being stout against perhaps the best offensive line they will have encountered.
As the Tide don't have that singular, dynamic pass rusher, Alabama's secondary, led by CB Dee Milliner, will have to be responsible and could tilt the game with one or two big plays.
Isn't that special: Alabama's Christion Jones has a 99-yard kickoff return for a score and averages 30.3 yards per return. Cyrus Jones has averaged 26.8 yards on six kickoff returns.
The Irish return game, meanwhile, has been atrocious to non-existent all year. Neither team can afford to give up a special-teams score that puts cheap points on the board.
The sideline: Nick Saban already has a statue at Alabama. Brian Kelly is vying for the victory that could earn him one at Notre Dame. Both coaches have championship pedigrees, though Saban has established his at the Bowl Subdivision level.
More critically, it's an intriguing match of up-and-coming defensive minds: Bob Diaco and Kirby Smart run the Notre Dame and Alabama defenses, respectively, and both will be hot commodities on the head coaching market, perhaps as soon as this game is done.
The talk: It will be, almost undoubtedly, the most-watched national championship game of all time. It will be one of the most difficult (and expensive) championship tickets of all time. By brand alone, it is a titanic clash of college football's foremost forces: The rabid, irrepressible SEC and its six straight national titles against the deep, abiding tradition of Notre Dame.
Some are rooting simply for an end to the SEC empire. Some are rooting simply to see Notre Dame run into the ground. Alabama has been to the top and is looking to stay there, while the Irish are looking to return to glory once more.