MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Your long national hypemare is over. Monday night, Alabama and Notre Dame will finally take the field at Sun Life Stadium to decide the national champion.
You've read about quarterbacks, defensive ends and academic advisors. Now, get ready for some actual football with the three keys to victory for each team.
Keys for Notre Dame
Golson has made some huge plays already for the Irish -- see the throw to Chris Brown in the fourth quarter of the Oklahoma game -- but he also has gotten yanked for Tommy Rees in some big spots. Kelly has been less inclined to do that as the season has progressed, and he should have little reason to do it now. Against Alabama, Golson's mobility could prove extremely helpful. He isn't Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, whose scrambling ability helped hand Alabama its only loss, but Golson can run well enough to escape a sack and extend a play by a few seconds. That could make all the difference. "Extended plays are how they've made a lot of big plays. ... The guy has really great arm talent because he can throw one side of the field to the other," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. "I can see in my mind three plays we watched over and over, he scrambles to his right, throws it all the way across the field to his left to a wide open received where a guy just lost him. They had him covered and they lost him. To that kid's credit, that creates a different angle of the offense that's hard to prepare for."
McCarron doesn't throw many bad passes, so the Irish will have to take advantage if they force one. Te'o's ability to snag a tipped pass or float into a passing lane undetected could be critical against McCarron. "The thing that stands out to me about Manti is he always seems to find the ball, as do all great players on defense," Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "You look at the interceptions, the tackles. He always seems to be around the ball. He has great natural instincts. Obviously he's a phenomenal athlete. It's going to be very important that we know where he is at all times."
Nix may have a secret weapon, though. On plays when Steen -- a huge country music fan -- helps Jones on a combo block, Nix can serenade the Tide into submission.
Keys for Alabama
In last year's BCS title game against LSU, Alabama coaches called passes on 16 of Alabama's 18 first-down plays in the first half. While the Tide may not go that pass-heavy Monday, letting McCarron air it out could loosen up the Notre Dame defense. If McCarron is on, the Irish can't stack the box. If they can't stack the box, Alabama's line and backs should be able to move the ball. If the Irish choose to keep eight in the box anyway and dare McCarron to beat them, then he'll have to duplicate his performance in the final series at LSU.
If Alabama's front seven can handle Notre Dame's running game and keep track of Golson, the corners will have help over the top. That should be enough to shut down the Irish passing game. If Golson starts extending plays and Smart and Alabama head coach Nick Saban have to dedicate another defender to the redshirt freshman quarterback, then Milliner and Belue may have to play the game of their lives.