There were not a lot of surprises when the BCS National Championship details were revealed Sunday night. As everyone expected, undefeated Notre Dame was number one and Alabama, coming off a 32-28 win over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, was number two. The Irish and the Crimson Tide will play for the national championship.
Alabama will be going for its second consecutive national championship and third in four years when Bama, 12-1, meets Notre Dame, 12-0, at Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on January 7. Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. EST (7:30 central) and ESPN will televise the game.
It was not a surprise to hear the head coach talking about building his team by starting with recruiting, and, specifically, with starting with defense. “If you play great defense,” he said, “you’ve got a chance. Our focus in recruiting and developing talent and in building a coaching staff was on defense.”
He talked about the process. He talked about focus being on the day-to-day. He talked about avoiding “the outside noise.”
And the coach doing that talking, familiar to all Bama followers, was Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.
Both Kelly and Alabama Coach Nick Saban discussed the upcoming game, each speaking of the upcoming challenge with glowing praise for the opponent. And justifiably so.
There is a reasonable case that Notre Dame and Alabama are the two biggest brands in college football and both coaches alluded to the traditions of the Irish and the Crimson Tide; both even invoked the memory of legendary Tide Coach Paul Bryant.
Saban called the national championship game “a special occasion” that is made “even more special” with the pairing of the two super names. He added “I think this is one of the great things in college football.”
Kelly said, “The tradition of Notre Dame and Alabama brings a lot to it, but all we’re concentrating on is being the best team we can be on January 7, but we do recognize tradition.”
The teams come at the BCS National Championship Game from different directions. Alabama will be playing in its third title game in the past four years and has won the previous two, including last year. The Irish came almost from out of the blue, winning several close games while playing one of the nation’s most difficult schedules.
Kelly said he was “proud of our accomplishment in bringing Notre Dame football back to where it should be, at the top of college football.” He then noted that he had built the program by following “the SEC model,” adding that Alabama is the pre-eminent program in the league.
“We know about Alabama,” he said.
Saban knows about Notre Dame, too. He said he had seen the Irish on television “a few times,” and cited their goalline stand against Southern Cal. He called Notre Dame “a well-coached team with great balance, a physical offensive line, a great tight end, toughness, and maybe the best (defensive) front seven in college football, top 10 in all defensive categories.”
Kelly said he watched Alabama’s win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. “Alabama toughness jumped off the (television) screen at me,” he said. He said he was “extremely impressed with both lines at Alabama. Their backs are physical.
“There was no panic. This is a team and coaching staff that has been there before. They imposed their will on Georgia.”
Saban dismissed a question regarding his personal return to South Florida, an allusion to him having left the Miami Dolphins to coach at Alabama. “I’ve been back to South Florida a lot of times,” he said, complimenting the area and noting he has many friends there.
An interesting aspect of the match-up is that there has long been a bias against Notre Dame almost equal to the prejudice for the Irish. With the Southeastern Conference having won six consecutive BCS National Championships and Alabama the representative going for a seventh, it was suggested to Kelly that perhaps Notre Dame would be the national favorite in this game.
“I don’t know about that,” Kelly said. “I think it’s about 50-50. I was in Atlanta yesterday and the Georgia cheerleaders were booing me.”