Notre Dame and Alabama -- two of college football's most storied programs -- will meet in South Florida on Jan. 7 for the BCS championship, as the second-ranked Crimson Tide held off No. 3 Georgia 32-28 in a thrilling SEC championship game on Saturday.
It'll be the first meeting between the third (ND) and seventh (Alabama) winningest teams in college football history since 1987. Notre Dame has won five of the six matchups, including the 1973 Sugar Bowl and the 1974 Orange Bowl.
The biggest matchup yet likely won't be the prettiest, as defense should rule the day. Notre Dame has the top scoring defense in the country, while Alabama is No. 2. Alabama has the second-best rush defense in the nation, Notre Dame is fifth -- and both teams are run-first offenses. The Tide racked up 353 rushing yards against Georgia, with big Eddie Lacy (185 yards) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (152 yards) doing the heavy lifting. But A.J. McCarron entered Saturday as the nation's second-most efficient passer, and despite throwing an interception and losing a fumble, he came up with the game-winning play, a 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper with 4:01 to go in the game. That perfect pass -- on play-action -- came after the Tide had lulled the Bulldogs to sleep with run after run after run.
The Irish have five weeks to find a weakness in the Tide defense. Of course, Alabama coach Nick Saban has five weeks to break down the Irish, too. But finals and time off for Christmas come first.
"I'm not going to get ready to play them until we start practicing," Saban said. "So I've got a couple weeks, I think."
The key for Alabama will be flustering redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson, and slowing down the Notre Dame ground game, featuring Theo Riddick (880 yards) and Cierre Wood (740 yards).
Alabama already has been installed as a 10-point favorite in Las Vegas. It's a familiar position for the Irish, who were never expected to win more than eight or nine games this season.
"Just keep doubting us... we love it," receiver Robby Toma said on Twitter.