Notre Dame, Alabama Meet for National Championship

It all comes down to this...

After a bowl season that tallied up 37 days, 34 games, 12 upsets, and three SEC bowl losses, it’s finally time for the big one; the Discover BCS National Championship Game.

No. 1 Notre Dame meets No. 2 Alabama at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Monday night, with kickoff scheduled for 8:30 PM ET.

The two storied schools – winners of 25 national titles between them – will each look to leave South Florida as the number one school in the country. For Alabama (14 national championships) a win would mark a third title win in four years. For Notre Dame (11 national championships) a win would mark a first title in 24 years – the longest stretch in the school’s history without a championship – and a first in the BCS era. Both teams will be looking to win a ninth AP title.

Alabama’s advancement to the season-closing game was little surprise to fans and experts alike. The Crimson Tide began the season ranked No. 2 in the polls behind a Southern California side once again postseason eligible. Whilst the Trojans inexplicably imploded, Alabama marched through the regular season and onto an SEC championship, recording just one loss on the way.

Bettors taking Nick Saban’s side at 5/1 to win the title ahead of the season could be smiling come midnight.

Notre Dame meanwhile was never expected to make it this far. Preseason championship odds of 40/1 saw the side fail to make the initial polls, but Brian Kelly’s team put such distractions to one side and proceeded to finish out the regular season undefeated.

Now all that’s left for both teams is 60 minutes of football under the bright lights on Sun Life Stadium.

Defense will be the name of the game when the two schools do take to the field. Notre Dame was No. 1 in the nation at stopping opponents scoring, allowing just 10.3 points per game. Alabama was a close second, giving up just 10.7 points per game.

Both Alabama’s rush and pass defense outranked the Fighting Irish this season. Alabama allowed 166.2 passing yards per game (4th) compared to Notre Dame’s 194.4 (21st). The Crimson Tide allowed 79.8 rushing yards per game (1st) compared to the Irish’s 92.4 (4th). But Notre Dame was a beast in the Red Zone, putting the halters on opponents all season. The Irish dominance was never captured better than on a fourth quarter goal line stand against USC that ensured the team would remain undefeated.

Offensively Alabama has the edge. The Crimson Tide outmatched most teams it opposed, scoring 38.5 points per game (14th). Notre Dame’s offense was less prolific, tallying 26.8 points per game (74th), which is why Manti Te’o and the defensive unit became such an important factor in the team’s season.

Both schools excelled in the running game, with Alabama averaging 224.6 rushing yards per game (19th) and Notre Dame averaging 202.5 (29th). Notre Dame has a slight advantage over the Tide in the passing game, with an average of 218.8 passing yards per game (76th) compared to Alabama’s 214.5 (82nd). Expect the running game to play a huge part in this game.

The championship showdown on Monday night will mark the first time the schools have met since Nov. 14, 1987, a game which Notre Dame won 37-6.

Notre Dame is 5-1 all-time against Alabama, including a win in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, which decided that year’s AP national champion. Alabama’s one success against the Irish came in a 28-10 win on Oct. 4, 1986.

Notre Dame may have had historical success over Alabama, but the school’s recent bowl record has been less than stellar. The Irish’s last bowl appearance was an 18-14 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2011. That loss is part of a 2-10 bowl streak that dates back to the end of the 1994 season.

Coach Kelly will hope that history does play its part though. Former Notre Dame Head Coaches Frank Leahy (1943), Ara Parseghian (1966), Dan Devine (1977), and Lou Holtz (1988) all won a national championship in their third year coaching the school. This is Kelly’s third year with the Irish.

With 44 days since defeating USC, Notre Dame will certainly have had the time to prepare for Alabama, but such long layoffs have a habit of impacting games in the strangest of ways.

Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC) opened as favorites over Notre Dame (12-0). Whilst that particular nugget shouldn’t come as a big surprise to most, what is a surprise is the point spread.

At opening, the spread stood at eight points in favor of the Tide. Eight points seems a high number against a team that only gave up 10.3 points per game. Bettors haven’t been scared off though, and the spread has subsequently risen to 10.

Alabama did not fare well against the spread this season, posting a 6-7-0 record. Notre Dame was marginally better, tallying a 7-5-0 ATS record.

The total opened at 43, a somewhat miserly figure compared to most bowl totals this season, which is testament to the prowess of the defenses that will be on display on Monday night. That number has dropped to 41 ahead of kickoff.

Whilst Alabama saw the total go over seven times on the season, Notre Dame was involved in only two games that tipped the total over. A whopping 10 games went under the total, which might be the best indicator on any line in this game.

All that remains is for us to sit back and see if Notre Dame can make history and return to a former glory, or whether the Irish will go the way of Louisiana State and Texas, and fall to an Alabama side that was crowned the national champion by many after a Week 1 victory over Michigan. Either way, this is one championship game that truly feels like a championship game.