If you were a Hollywood script writer looking to pitch a movie based on a college football championship being played in a land far, far away, it would be hard to come up with a better pair of protagonists than Alabama and Notre Dame.
For any director, it’s a cinematic smörgåsbord replete with plotlines as far as the stomach can see. The North vs. the South on a gridiron battlefield. Two of the winningest programs in FBS history, with the Irish tied for second all-time with Texas and the Tide seventh. Mystique for miles, from Knute to Bear, from the Gipper to Broadway Joe before the bright lights and big city, from 14 claimed national championships for the Tuscaloosa school to 11 claimed by the one from South Bend.
And, it just so happens, the two best teams after the dust had settled and the curtain had fallen on the 2012 regular season.
Simply put, it’s already the most highly anticipated title game of the BCS era… and we’re still weeks away from the Jan. 7 showdown in Miami. Suffice to say, myriad words will be dumped onto a computer screen to feed the hype machine over the next five weeks, with storylines far surpassing even the schools’ healthy win totals. Here are but a few of those that may or may not have an impact on which team hoists the crystal into the South Beach sky at game’s end.
Are you experienced?
In a lot of ways, Alabama and Notre Dame are as evenly matched as any two teams that have faced each other on this stage recently. One area where the Tide has a decided and lopsided advantage? Big-game experience. The No. 2 Tide (12-1) will be gunning for an unprecedented third BCS title in four years while the Irish’s biggest game under Brian Kelly prior to this year was, what, the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State after last season? From handling the weeks-long layoff to dealing with the media circus to a 60-minute game of this magnitude and carrying such immense ramifications, Nick Saban has been there, done that while Kelly is just getting there and has never done that.
Waking the slumbering echoes
In the 14-year history of the BCS, No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) has appeared in just three of the marquee bowl games, with the last coming after the 2006 regular season. Their national championship drought stretches back even further; the last time the Irish finished a season on top, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, a gallon of gas would set you back $1.08 and Lou Holtz was shtomping acrosh the Irish shidelines. Since then, “Flounder Like an Irrelevant Program Today” has marked the once-proud program’s trudge through more than two decades of mediocrity. Following a 16-win run to end the last three years of the Charlie Weis era, though, the tide, so to speak, began to turn for the Irish. In the two years after Kelly was hired in December of 2009, the Irish posted back-to-back eight-win seasons. In the third year under Kelly — the same year four other Irish coaches won their first/only national championships at the school, incidentally — the Irish have made a resounding move back onto the national stage. And relevance in the way that matters most.
Exorcising historical ghosts
While they’ve met but a handful of times through the years, Notre Dame has had Alabama’s number when they have taken the field. In six meetings, the Irish own a decided 5-1 advantage. Included in that total? A perfect 4-0 record against Tide teams coached by the legendary Bear Bryant. The two teams first met in 1973, with the last coming in 1987. The first two meetings came in the Sugar and Orange Bowls in back-to-back years, with the Irish winning both games by a combined three points over Tide teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at the time. Alabama’s only win came during the 1986 regular season, a 28-10 decision in Birmingham. Of course, the last time the two teams met with this much on the line, Saban was a graduate assistant at his alma mater Kent State while Kelly had yet to enter high school, so the historical angle will be gummed to death in the coming weeks due to lack of teeth.
Chasing the Bear
More than three decades after his death, there’s still nothing that epitomizes and encapsulates the Alabama football program more than Paul William Bryant. In his 25 years as the Tide’s head coach, the Bear won a school-record 232 games and staked his claim to five* national titles. While Saban can inch up on but never truly surpass Coach Bryant in the hearts and minds of Tuscaloosans, he can take a step closer to the coaching immortal’s accomplishments; with a win over Notre Dame, Saban would have four national championships on his résumé — one at LSU, three in the Bear’s den.
(*I don’t acknowledge 1973, much like the coaches didn’t acknowledge the postseason)
Record eyeballs glued to boob tube?
The highest-rated game in BCS history was the USC-Texas Rose Bowl affair following the 2005 season, which drew a 21.7 Nielsen rating. Notre Dame drew a 10.3 rating for its “meaningless” regular season game against USC this year that was roughly half of that record, and equal to the 2012 SEC title game. Alabama plus Notre Dame plus five weeks of hype? Records will be shattered.
Depending on which way the polling winds blow, and if it’s favorable in their direction, Alabama claims (I think) 14 national championships. Notre Dame claims 11, with both teams using various polls to dignify their historical national championship status. The one certainty in all of the title claiming? There are two teams that have each won a record eight Associated Press titles — Alabama and Notre Dame, of course. Jan. 7 in Miami, as it turns out, will turn into a tiebreaker for the ages that no one ever anticipated.
In the week leading up to the SEC championship game, Alabama had been listed as a 9.5 favorite over Notre Dame should the two teams ultimately meet in the BCS title game. With the game officially set? The odds range from 8.5 to 10, depending on the book. Notre Dame may be undefeated, but they’ll go into the title game as decided underdogs in the eyes of both the sports books in general and the betting/viewing public in particular.