Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 1/7/13
 We have reached the end of another college football season which culminates in what would be a classic matchup in nearly any decade in the past 70 years. Since 1943, Alabama and/or Notre Dame have captured a National Championship (as recognized by the AP or Coaches Poll) in every decade except the 1950s. Notre Dame dominated early, capturing 4 AP Championships in the 1940s under Frank Leahy. Alabama dominated in the middle, capturing 3 AP Championships in the 1960s and 2 AP and 1 Coaches Championship in the 1970s under Bear Bryant. The Irish and Tide split one Championship in 1973 with the Irish capturing the AP Championship under Ara Parseghian while Alabama took home the Coach’s Championship that year. Alabama has also been dominating lately, looking for their third BCS Championship in four years under Nick Saban. In all, Alabama and Notre Dame have combined for 17 National Championships since 1943 and Notre Dame is looking to tie Alabama for the most titles (9) since the recognized modern era. As an Oklahoma fan, I have no love lost for Notre Dame; but someone has to break the stranglehold that college football (and perhaps Nick Saban) has on college football. Discover BCS National Championship Game   Notre Dame (IND) (+9.5) vs. Alabama (SEC) January 7th 8:30 pm ESPN – The Irish run toward the championship game is one of those things that every true college football fan had to come to appreciate at some point in the season. No matter what your personal feelings are toward Notre Dame, the way they play and the way they have managed their schedule and the increased pressure and expectations throughout the year is something to be admired. HC Brian Kelly is in his third year at Notre Dame and to anyone that paid attention to his rise through the coaching ranks; this is less of a surprise. Kelly started his head coaching career at Grand Valley St. where he was head coach from 1991 through 2003 after serving as an assistant. In his final three years at Grand Valley, his teams went 41-2 and won two consecutive division II national titles in his final two years. Kelly moved on to Central Michigan who had suffered through 8 losing seasons in 9 years before his arrival. After one losing season, the Chippewas finished with a 6-5 record in his second year and improved to 9-4 in his third and final season, earning their first bowl game in 11 years. Kelly parlayed this success into a HC job at Cincinnati. Kelly did not have as big a rebuilding job in Cincinnati as he had in Mt. Pleasant. He was following a three-year stint by current Michigan St. HC Mark Dantonio who had accumulated a 19-17 record in his years there. Kelly stepped in right away and went 33-7 in three years with the Bearcats. His record improved each year and the Bearcats played in BCS bowls in his final two years at the helm. The administration at Notre Dame took notice of Kelly and hired him following the 2009 season. In his third year with the Irish, he has pushed the program to the crest of the mountain following two 8-5 campaigns in his first years as HC. What to Expect: This is a game that no real college football fan can miss. The intrigue in this game is just thick. Will the Irish be able to complete their climb to the mountain top of college football? Can the strangle-hold on the Coaches Trophy by the SEC be broken? Can Nick Saban be beaten in a National Title Game? These are two of the most storied programs in the history of college football and this game could be matching the two best coaches in the game. Saban is there and his ability to coach is unquestioned. Kelly is in position to step into that light and using his offensive mind to beat the defensive genius of Saban in a championship game would accomplish that. Kelly has masterfully incorporated a two-quarterback system throughout the year favoring redshirt freshman Everett Golson, but utilizing last year’s starting quarterback, junior Tommy Rees, in a type of improvised closer role in games against Purdue, Michigan, and Stanford to preserve their unbeaten season. Kelly understands that the strength of this team is his defense and that has been his focus, despite a long and successful career building a reputation as an offensive coach. They control the ball with a three-headed running attack of junior Cierre Wood, senior Theo Riddick, and sophomore George Atkinson. Golson has become a more effective quarterback as the season has progressed and his confidence has grown. His 5 INTs on the year feed right into Kelly’s philosophy of limiting mistakes and limiting opportunities for the opposing offense to score points by controlling the football. On defense, the Irish have employed a “bend but don’t break” philosophy all season. There are yards to be gained between the 20s for sure, but they have been a brick wall inside the red zone, only allowing 2 rushing TD on the year and only a total of 8 TDs in the Red Zone. The terrific front-seven for the Irish have covered up the weakness of the defense for much of the year, their secondary. There is talent in the secondary, but they are inexperienced and have shown a tendency to get burned throughout the year. More recently, they have employed more of a zone defense over the top, forcing teams to dump the ball underneath. This has worked because the Irish defenders are superior tacklers and can limit the gains. Notre Dame employed this strategy masterfully in shutting down Oklahoma’s high-flying passing attack in Norman. Photo Credit: Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIRE Alabama reaches the National Title game for the second consecutive season and have a chance to be the first team to defend their title since Nebraska in 1995. A win by Alabama would keep the Coaches Trophy within the state of Alabama for the fourth consecutive year (Alabama 2009, Auburn 2010). Nick Saban is simply the best coach in college football right now and he is coaching at a school that is second to none in their tradition and passion for the sport of college football. It is a dangerous mix for the rest of the college football world and at some point you just have to sit back in awe of what is going on there. There is not a mystery to what Saban does on either side of the ball, he is just confident that he is going to do it better than you. He feels as though he has better athletes at every position and, for the most part, he is right. When you watch his teams play, you are struck by the lack of mental breakdowns and mistakes that they make throughout the course of a game. They are going to run straight at you with the run game until you have sucked your defense up in the box to stop the run and then he is going to use superior speed to hit the edge or dump it over the top with his passing game to make you pay. His teams are not going to make mistakes (QB A.J. McCarron has 3 INTs on the year) and they are going to capitalize on absolutely every mistake that you make. The defense took a step back this year after losing 6 defensive players to the NFL draft (3 in the first round). OK, so that makes sense, but for most of the season it didn’t look like they lost a step on the heels of losing that type of talent. LSU and Texas A&M did reveal some cracks in the armor of their passing defense. Georgia took advantage of this same weakness and found a way to consistently run up the middle against the ‘Tide defense. Georgia freshman RB Todd Gurley repeatedly gashed the defense and Alabama seemingly had no answer for it. The question for the Irish will be whether or not they have the talent along the O-Line to push around the D-Line of Alabama like the Bulldogs did. If they can maintain a dual attack on DC Kirby Smart’s defense, it could be a long night for Alabama fans. Smart and Saban have four weeks to shore up the defense in anticipation of the Irish attack. This is a matchup of two coaches who have had a lot of time to think about and insert wrinkles into their offenses and defenses. Saban has been simply unbeatable in BCS Championship games, winning one with LSU and going for his third in four seasons with Alabama. Kelly is making his first trip to a BCS Championship, but was 2-1 in Division II Championship games at Grand Valley St.  Kelly is 0-1 in BCS games, but he is bringing a lot more talent into this one than he did at Cincinnati following the 2008 season. There is something magical about Notre Dame’s season this year and it feels as though they are the team of destiny. Nothing would shock me more than if the Irish lost by more than 9 points, but I am picking them to win this game outright and break the hex that the SEC has had on college football since Vince Young out-dueled Reggie Bush in the 2006 Rose Bowl. The Irish win, 23-21. -Doak
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