Following the 2006 through '10 seasons, SEC teams shut down high-powered opponents from the Big Ten (Ohio State, twice), Big 12 (Oklahoma and Texas) and Pac-12 (Oregon) in the BCS championship game. Notre Dame, an independent, might be better suited than its predecessors to take down an SEC foe for a simple reason: The Irish are built like an SEC team.
Like Alabama, Notre Dame runs a 3--4. Its 6'3", 326-pound noseguard, Louis Nix III, blows up the center of opposing lines, while Stephon Tuitt (12 sacks) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (six) swarm in from the ends. Smart, hard-hitting linebacker Manti Te'o patrols the middle. That's why the Irish allowed only two rushing touchdowns in 12 regular-season games and rank first in scoring defense, allowing 10.3 points per game. And opponents haven't had much success through the air, either. Although the Irish rely on a pair of inexperienced cornerbacks (Bennett Jackson and freshman KeiVarae Russell), only two teams had 60-plus-yard touchdown drives against them.
On offense, redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson is the x-factor. Irish coach Brian Kelly benched Golson early on for turnovers and inconsistent play. But starting with a breakout performance in an Oct. 27 win at Oklahoma, Golson accounted for at least 239 yards in his last five games, with just two interceptions. His pinpoint throws helped him start 7 of 8 for 100 yards against USC, staking his team to a 10--0 lead. And Golson's running ability could cause problems for Alabama; Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's success against the Tide could serve as a blueprint.
Alabama is more talented top to bottom than the Irish. Its quarterback is more experienced, and its running backs are more explosive than Notre Dame's Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. But the Tide's offense is not markedly better than Oklahoma's, which Notre Dame held to 13 points. If Golson plays smart and makes just enough plays, the Irish can win a low-scoring game—just as a certain SEC team did before them.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
X MAN Golson (5) has averaged 278 total yards over the last five games and could be the dual threat the Irish offense needs to stem the Tide.