It all comes down to this.
After five weeks of preparation and 34 “warm-up” bowl games, the BCS Championship is on the line Monday night, when No. 1 Notre Dame takes on No. 2 Alabama for the title of national champs.
And there are, of course, numerous intriguing matchups and questions heading into the showdown.
Can a stingy Notre Dame defense contain the best rushing offense in college football?
How will Alabama center Barrett Jones’ injured foot hold up against Irish nose tackle Louis Nix III, considered one of the best defensive linemen in football?
Can the Irish handle the hype, or will Alabama’s veteran players — making their third national championship appearance in four years — handle the occasion better?
On the line is a slice of history.
Alabama is looking to become just the third team ever to repeat as national champs and to solidify its status as a modern dynasty with a third title in just four years, a feat not achieved since Nebraska did it back in the mid-90s.
Notre Dame is looking for its first title in 24 years, having risen back to the top of the rankings after one of the program’s most barren spells ever.
In his third year in charge of the Irish, head coach Brian Kelly also has history on his side. The past four Irish coaches to win a national championship — Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz — each won the crown in their third year with the team.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, meanwhile, is looking to solidify his status as the greatest coach in the modern game with his fourth crystal ball, having also previously won at LSU.
The key to the showdown, undoubtedly, will be who wins the battle in the trenches, especially the battle between the Alabama offensive line and the ND defensive front, arguably the best in the country in each category.
Alabama has dominated top-ranked teams all season with a dynamic rush attack, which features a pair of standouts in T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy, and over the past five seasons under Saban, the Crimson Tide is an incredible 50-0 when they rush for 140 yards or more.
The Irish defense, on the other hand, has taken a bit of a bend-don’t-break approach this season, with the most statistically dominating red zone defense in college football in a decade, while allowing just two rushing TDs all season and holding six of their 12 opponents without an offensive TD.
Another key to the game will be the quarterback play. AJ McCarron led the Tide to a title last season and has evolved into one of the most reliable — if not spectacular — quarterbacks in college football, with 26 TDs and just three picks all season.
For the Irish, the play of Everett Golston will be key, although many observers believe the first-year starter has developed over the second half of the season and is the type of strong-armed running QB that has proven to give the Tide defense problems this season.
The game is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. EDT.