MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The BCS National Championship Game arrives tonight full of college football excellence and free of matchup controversy. It has the added attraction of bringing together two of the games most storied programs.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Notre Dame, undefeated and atop the polls and BCS standings, battles defending national champion Alabama at 7:30 at Sun Life Stadium.
They are teams for the ages, providers of some of the games most iconic images. The Four Horseman and Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant and the houndstooth hat, all woven into the games lore.
But they are also the best of the moment, and perhaps as tribute to their collective football heritage, the Irish and Crimson Tide win largely with defense and a run-first approach. No uptempo, no huddle spread here. The teams reached this point by shutting down opponents. A little bit old-fashion, is how Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly describes it.
The Irish lead the nation in fewest average points allowed, the Crimson Tide in fewest average yards allowed.
In the trenches is where this game will be won, Alabama center Barrett Jones said.
Notre Dames front seven, led by linebacker Manti Teo, is considered the games best. Its muscle in keeping Stanford out of the end zone that preserved an overtime victory may stand as the Irishs shining moment. Teo, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, also came up big in the season-ending victory at Southern California that assured the trip to the championship game and impressed Trojans All-America wide receiver Marquise Lee.
Hes the leader he controls everything, Lee said. What he says goes.
Alabamas offensive line is a dominant collection of talent that has helped quarterback AJ McCarron, who helped guide the Tide to last years championship-game victory over LSU, lead the nation in passing efficiency. It also opened the lanes for running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, who became the first pair to rush for 1,000 yards in a season in school history.
Thats football at its finest, Teo said of the Crimson Tide linemen. Its the kind of challenge you look forward to.
The Crimson Tides lone loss in 13 games came at home to Texas A&M, led by Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, like Manziel, is a dangerous runner who could give the Crimson Tide trouble. Still, Manziel favors the Tide.
Their offensive line, what it can do, having AJ, whos been there, I think gives them an advantage, Manziel said Sunday.
Tonight marks the 15th BCS title game, and its the first appearance for the Irish, who seek to win their first national championship since 1988. Since The Associated Press started rankings in 1936, Notre Dames current 24-year drought without a title is the longest in school history.
But a victory would give the program its first 13-0 record and mark a return to greatness known to older generations. Excitement is running high in South Bend, Ind. The school received 107,000 applications for its allotment of 17,000 tickets.
Whatever happens tonight, the Irish have awakened the echoes.
Getting this program back into the conversation relative to the national championship has brought everybody closer, said Kelly, who went 16-10 in his first two years at South Bend.
For Alabama, the rejuvenating process started four years ago when the Tide won its first BCS title. Coach Nick Saban picked up another one last year, running the Southeastern Conferences winning streak in BCS games to six. Before Saban, Alabama hadnt won a national title since 1992.
Now, the Crimson Tide bids for its third crystal ball trophy in four years. Nebraska was the last program to enjoy such a run, with the Cornhuskers finishing first atop wire-service polls three times during 1994-97, the period immediately before the BCS was launched.
Saban, however, wont take the long view of Alabamas accomplishment, insisting this years team has nothing to do with last, and he steadfastly refuses to hear himself in the same breath as Bryant, the legend whose teams finished first in major wire-service polls six times.
I dont think that would be fair at all to Bear Bryant and the tradition he created and the standard of excellence that he sustained for years and years, Saban said. Really theres no one that I know that would say should even be spoken in the same sort of circumstance.
Still, a strong sense of past tugs at this meeting.
At Notre Dame, we always say we dont play for ourselves or our coaches, Irish tight end Tyler Eifert said. We play for all the guys that have played at Notre Dame and set the stage for us now.
Tonight, its the biggest stage in college football.