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             === Alabama and Notre Dame meet in BCS title tilt ===
 
 Miami Gardens, FL (Sports Network) - Two of the most storied programs in NCAA
 history will collide at Sun Life Stadium on Monday night, as the Alabama
 Crimson Tide and Notre Dame Fighting Irish square off with the BCS National
 Championship on the line.
 
 It is a familiar setting for Nick Saban and his squad, as Alabama will be
 playing for its third national title in the last four years, hoping to become
 the first team since Nebraska in the early 1990s to complete that feat.
 
 The defending national champions were almost left on the outside looking in on
 this game, as the team opened the season with nine straight wins, before
 suffering what looked like a devastating loss late in November to Texas A&M in
 Tuscaloosa (29-24). However, teams in front of the Crimson Tide faltered down
 the stretch, while Alabama took care of its business the rest of the way,
 including knocking off a tough Georgia squad in the SEC Championship Game
 (32-28) in what amounted to a BCS semifinal, with the winner moving into the
 national title game.
 
 Alabama's postseason resume is obviously lengthy, as the team has captured 14
 national championships in all (10 consensus), including last year's 21-0
 shutout of LSU. This is Alabama's third appearance in the BCS Title Game. The
 Crimson Tide lead the nation in all-time bowl appearances (59) and bowl
 victories (33). This marks the ninth straight season the team has earned a
 bowl bid.
 
 A two-time National Coach of the Year, Brian Kelly has once again transformed
 a program. After leading Cincinnati to an undefeated regular season in his
 third year at the helm in 2009, he has done it again, this time in South Bend,
 where Notre Dame makes its return to the biggest stage. The Fighting Irish sit
 atop the national polls heading into the championship game at a flawless 12-0,
 which includes victories over four top-25 foes. The Irish are the first team
 in the BCS era to play for a national championship after starting the season
 unranked. BYU was the last team to claim a national title after starting the
 season unranked (1984).
 
 Notre Dame began the 2012 season with a thorough drubbing of Navy in Ireland
 (50-10). Victories over Michigan State, Michigan, Miami-Florida and Oklahoma
 showcased Notre Dame's defensive prowess along the way. It wasn't always easy
 though, as the Irish needed an overtime period to get past Stanford (20-13)
 and three extra sessions to edge out Pittsburgh (29-26). However, victories
 over Boston College (21-6), Wake Forest (38-0) and USC (22-13) finished off an
 unbeaten campaign and secured a spot atop the national polls and an invite to
 the team's first-ever BCS Championship Game.
 
 Notre Dame has 11 national titles to its credit, although the last one came
 back in 1988. The Irish sit with a 15-16 all-time bowl record, as the
 postseason has not been kind to the team since the mid-90s. Notre Dame
 experienced a nine-game losing streak in bowls from 1994-2006, but finally
 ended the skein with back-to-back wins over Hawaii (2008) and Miami-Florida
 (2010). Last season, the Irish dropped an 18-14 decision to Florida State in
 the Champs Sports Bowl.
 
 Alabama and Notre Dame have met six previous times, with Notre Dame claiming
 victory in five of those games. Still, these teams haven't met since 1987. The
 most famous clash took place in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, when third-ranked Notre
 Dame edged out top-ranked Alabama, 24-23 in what was called the "Game of the
 Century."
 
 Nick Saban acknowledged how special this game is.
 
 "We are very excited about coming to South Florida and I congratulate Notre
 Dame and Coach Kelly and his players on an undefeated season and their number
 one ranking," said Saban. "They are a fantastic team and it's always a special
 occasion to play against Notre Dame, and especially for the national
 championship."
 
 Saban has certainly done a remarkable job in Tuscaloosa, as it seems like he
 has a never-ending supply of All-Americans coming in and out the program,
 providing the team with an opportunity to win the SEC and national
 championship annually. This season is obviously no different, All-Americans
 pepper the lineup on both sides of the ball.
 
 The Alabama offense flourished this season thanks to steady play under center,
 a dominant offensive line and a couple of great tailbacks. Overall, Alabama
 finished up averaging 38.5 ppg, while gaining over 200 yards both on the
 ground (224.6 ypg) and through the air (214.5 ypg). In addition, the team was
 able to finish as the top red-zone offense in the nation, scoring 89 percent
 of the time, including touchdowns in 41-of-57 opportunities.
 
 Of the team's six All-Americans this year, three reside along the offensive
 line in First-Teamers Chance Warmack (guard) and Barrett Jones (center), along
 with Second-Teamer D.J. Fluker (tackle). Jones, a two-time selection, also won
 the Rimington Award as the top pivot in the country.
 
 That certainly had to make quarterback A.J. McCarron (Third-Team All-American)
 feel safe when dropping back, as the junior signal-caller completed a steady
 66.8 percent of his passes, for 2,669 yards, with 26 touchdowns and just three
 interceptions. Freshman Amari Cooper emerged as a true game-breaker on the
 outside, leading the team in receptions (53), receiving yards (895) and TD
 catches (9).
 
 The passing game was also aided by the strong running of both junior Eddie
 Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon. Both put up 1,000 yards or more on the ground,
 as Lacy finished with 1,182 yards on 6.4 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns,
 while Yeldon netted an even 1,000 yards on 6.5 yards per touch and 11 scores.
 
 Defense has been the name of the game in Tuscaloosa under Saban and this
 season is no different, as Alabama ranked second nationally in points allowed
 (10.7 ppg), first in rush defense (79.8 ypg), fourth in pass defense (166.2
 ypg) and first in total defense (246.0 ypg).
 
 A pair of First-Team All-Americans reside on the defensive side of the ball in
 junior linebacker C.J. Mosley and junior cornerback Dee Milliner. Mosley, who
 has already indicated that he will return for his senior season, paced the
 team in tackles (99), with 7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, two interceptions, one forced
 fumble and one fumble recovery. Fellow linebackers Trey DePriest (56 tackles)
 and Nico Johnson (54 stops) were a distant second and third on the team in
 tackles.
 
 A talented secondary was led by Milliner (51 tackles, two INTs, one fumble
 recovery), but he is certainly not alone, as senior Robert Lester (42 tackles,
 four INTs) is an NFL-calibber defensive back as well.
 
 The Irish have excelled this season and it probably isn't a coincidence that
 the team resembles an SEC squad in a number of areas. Notre Dame has run the
 table this season with dominant play along both lines, a steady diet of the
 run and aggressive defensive play.
 
 Notre Dame hasn't put up gaudy scoring totals this year at 26.8 ppg, but the
 team has moved the ball well with a balanced attack, also averaging over 200
 yards both rushing (202.5 ypg) and passing (218.8 ypg).
 
 Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson has learned on the job and is a much move
 savvy signal-caller now than at the beginning on the season. Golson has
 completed 58.9 percent of his throws on the season, for 2,135 yards, with 11
 touchdowns and five interceptions, but his athleticism in the pocket allows
 him to extend plays and make something out of nothing.
 
 Brian Kelly thinks play in the red zone is a key to this contest.
 
 "Well, if you just look at the start of the year to the end of the year, it's
 been a progression for Everett, especially in those areas where you put points
 on the board," said Kelly. "So when you're trying to look at an A.J. McCarron
 who's an experienced player coming back versus Golson, you're going to give
 A.J., early in the season, obviously the edge because he's been there.
 
 Everett obviously was learning along the season, and he's gotten better as
 we've gotten closer. So we think we've addressed those through just maturity
 and understanding."
 
 Golson has also benefited from the play of Mackey Award winning tight end
 Tyler Eifert (44 receptions, 624 yards, four TDs) and wideout T.J. Jones (43
 receptions, 559 yards, four TDs).
 
 Still, it is the ground game that fuels the Irish attack. With no clear-cut
 workhorse in the backfield, the philosophy is fresh legs. The team boasts of a
 trio of quality ball carriers in Theo Riddick (880 yards, 4.9 ypc, five TDs),
 Cierre Wood (740 yards, 6.7 ypc, four TDs) and George Atkinson III (361 yards,
 7.1 ypc, five TDs).
 
 Where Notre Dame has really had its greatest success is on the defensive side
 of the football. The Irish rank first in the nation in points allowed (10.3
 ppg) as well as red-zone defense, limiting foes to just eight touchdowns in 33
 attempts this year.
 
 The Irish also have star power on defense, led by unanimous All-American Manti
 Te'o in the middle. The senior linebacker saved his best for last, as Te'o was
 not only the Heisman runner-up, but became the most decorated player in NCAA
 history this season, by capturing the Butkus Award, Lombardi Award, Nagurski
 Award, Bednarik Award, Maxwell Award, Lott Trophy and the Walter Camp Player
 of the Year.
 
 Te'o led the Irish with 103 total tackles and tied for third nationally in
 interceptions with seven. He certainly wasn't alone in making plays for Notre
 Dame, as sophomore end Stephon Tuitt picked up All-American honors as well,
 amassing 42 tackles and team-highs in both TFL (13.0) and sacks (12.0). Others
 in the front seven that play vital roles on this unit include fellow end
 Kapron Lewis-Moore (39 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks), nose tackle Louis Nix III
 (45 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and linebacker Prince Shembo (48 tackles,
 10.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks). The secondary is highlighted by cornerback Bennett
 Jackson (61 tackles, four INTs) and safety Zeke Motta (61 tackles, one fumble
 recovery).
 
 
 
 
 01/07 10:02:28 ET