A BCS title game steeped in tradition
By RICH GIBSON
Times Leader Sports Writer
Had enough hype?
We can only hope Monday night’s BCS title tilt featuring Notre Dame and Alabama caps an otherwise disappointing 2012 bowl season with a classic battle between numbers one and two.
Speaking of which, the second-ranked Crimson Tide is favored to defend its championship, Coach Nick Saban’s club having blanked fellow SEC member Louisiana State by a 21-0 count a year ago.
In fact, Bama is seeking its third national crown in four years. That, of course, would be an impressive feat by any measure considering college football’s competitive balance.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, barely rated under-the-radar status as the 2012 campaign approached. The Fighting Irish, however, have been led by national coach of the year Brian Kelly who guided the Golden Domers to a perfect 12-0 ledger.
Make no mistake, the Irish figure to be more than worthy championship game participants going up against a seasoned, multi-talented, if not dominant Crimson Tide contingent.
Alabama (12-1) suffered its only loss at Tuscaloosa back in week 10 when a previously little-known freshman quarterback from Texas A & M led a rousing 29-24 Aggies’ conquest.
In that game, future Heisman winner Johnny Manziel accounted for 345 yards, exploiting Bama’s much heralded defensive unit.
In the two weekends which followed, Saban’s club recorded consecutive 49-0 shutouts of Western Carolina and Auburn, hardly earth-shattering achievements.
This eventually led to the SEC’s annual championship clash between Bama and Georgia. Contested inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, the Tide discovered itself hanging on by a thread in the game’s final seconds.
In the end, Georgia came within an eyelash (five yards to be more specific) from knocking off Bama which would survive by 32-28. In an earlier regular season skirmish, the Tide needed a last-drive, game-saving TD to outlast LSU by 21-17 in Bayou Country.
Kelly’s Irish, meanwhile, experienced their share of close calls as well, securing no fewer than five outcomes by a touchdown or less.
The Green and Gold struggled to edge Purdue (20-17) in week two; prevailed in smashmouth fashion over Michigan (13-6) in week four; traveled overtime to slip past Stanford’s Cardinal (20-13) in week six; did just enough to overcome BYU (17-14) in week seven; and dramatically rallied from a 20-6 deficit to eventually outlast Pitt’s Panthers (29-26) in a triple-overtime week nine thriller at South Bend.
We’ll call Monday night’s quarterback matchup a potential wash in terms of necessary intangibles possessed by each.
Irish sophomore Everett Golson (6-0, 185) has evolved into a formidable field general. The Myrtle Beach (S.C.) native sports an outstanding 58.9 percent completion rate, finding the mark on 166 of 282 throws, good for 2,135 yards and 11 touchdowns. Golson has suffered but five picks. He’s also scrambled for 305 yards and five scores.
Kelly has a second option under center in the person of 6-2, 210-pound junior Tommy Rees. An Illinois resident, Rees, in nine games, has passed for 436 yards and two TDs.
Notre Dame’s versatile and productive receiving corps includes some five candidates who’ve landed 20 or more receptions – led by 6-6, 250-pound senior tight end Tyler Eifert, a Fort Wayne (Ind) product with 44 catches and 624 yards, good for four touchdowns.
Wideout T.J. Jones, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, owns 43 grabs totaling 559 yards and four six-pointers. Out of the backfield, running back Theo Riddick, adds 35 receptions for 364 yards and a score.
Riddick, a 5-11, 200-pound senior out of New Jersey, has amassed a team-leading 880 infantry yards via 180 carries. He’s scored five times.
Spelling Riddick is the capable Cierre Wood. The 6-0, 215-pound senior out of Oxnard, Calif., has piled up 740 yards a result of 110 carries, good for a 6.7 carry per-yard average.
Those projecting a potential favorable outcome for the Irish Monday can rightfully point to an experienced front line which has won a vast majority of game day battles in the trenches.
A pair of movers and shakers line up at two guard posts in 6-3, 310-pound senior Chris Watt along with 6-3, 300-pound senior Mike Golic, Jr. A tenacious duo at tackle includes 6-4, 304-pound senior Zack Martin and 6-5, 309-pound junior Christian Lombard. Senior Braxston Cave (6-3, 304) does extensive damage at center.
Sophomore Kyle Brindza has converted 23-of-31 field goal attempts while senior punter Ben Turk has a 40.6 yard average via 48 attempts. Sophomore George Atkinson is ND’s primary kick return specialist, netting just over 20 yards per attempt in 19 tries.
Heisman runnerup Manti Te’o (6-2, 255) leads an effective Irish defensive unit. The Irish’s inside linebacker possesses exceptional lateral movement and has logged seven pass thefts.
Cornerback Bennett Jackson (6-0, 185) is another nose-to-the-grindstone type. The junior out of New Jersey is second among defenders in INTs. Jackson’s secondary mates include safeties Zeke Motta (6-2, 215 senior) and Matthias Farley (6-1, 200 sophomore) in addition to 5-11, 182-pound frosh corner KeiVarae Russell.
Teo’s teammates at linebacker are outside experts Prince Shembo (6-2, 250 junior) and Danny Spond (6-2, 248 junior). Filling the remaining inside post is 6-3, 240-pound senior Dan Fox, a Cleveland St. Ignatius High product.
Senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore is a 6-4, 305-pound Texas native. He’s flanked by 6-6, 303-pound sophomore Stephon Tuitt of Monroe, Ga. At nose guard, 6-3, 326-pound junior Louis Nix III is a Jacksonville, Fla. native.
ALABAMA’S offense is triggered by 6-4, 210-pound junior A.J. McCarron, a Mobile resident. The Tide has scored 500 points, good for a 38.8 per-game norm.
Talk about exceptional balance. Bama has generated 2,920 rushing yards and totaled 2,788 through the air.
McCarron’s aerial numbers include 191 completions in 286 throws, a stellar 66.8 percent completion rate, totaling 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Wideout Amari Cooper, a 6-1, 198-pound freshman speedster, has 53 receptions good for 895 yards and nine scores.
Cooper, a Miami (Fla.) native is well complemented by teammates Kevin Norwood (6-2, 195 junior) and Christion Jones (5-11, 185 sophomore). The duo have 26 and 25 catches, respectively, totaling a combined 700 yards and eight TDs.
Tight end Michael Williams (6-6, 269 senior) adds 21 receptions for 166 yards and three scores. Out of the backfield, junior Eddie Lacy (6-0, 220) has made 20 grabs for 172 yards.
Lacy and frosh backfield mate T.J. Yeldon (6-2, 216) combine to give Tide opponents fits. Lacy has generated 1,182 yards and 16 scores via 184 carries with Yeldon charting an even 1,000 infantry stripes, good for 11 TDs a result of 154 totes.
Alabama’s offensive front features a pair of consensus first team All-Americans in 6-5, 302-pound senior center and Rimington Trophy winner Barritt Jones and 6-3, 320-pound senior left guard Chance Warmack.
The tackles are 6-6, 335-pound junior D.J, Fluker and 6-6, 311-pound sophomore Cyrus Kouandijo. Lining up at the other guard spot is 6-3, 303-pound junior Anthony Steen.
Senior placekicker Jeremy Shelley is a perfect 63-of-63 in PATs and 11-of-11 in field goals. Saban normally calls on junior Cade Foster (4-of-9) on FG attempts of 45 yards and longer.
Bama’s defense was No. 1 in all five major categories a year ago and has been near the top of the rankings throughout the 2012 campaign.
Junior linebacker C. L. Mosley (6-2. 232) who has battled injuries, was a Butkus Award finalist who developed into one of the top playmakers on the Tide’s tough defense.
Mosley logged a team-leading 99 tackles and four QB sacks. he also recorded two pass thefts, returning one for six points.
Mosley’s teammates at LB posts include senior Nico Johnson (6-3, 245) and a trio of sophomores Trey DePriest (6-2, 245), a Springfield, Ohio native; Xavier Dickson (6-3, 232); and Adrian Hubbard (6-6, 248).
The Crimson Tide secondary has one of the country’s finest in 6-1, 200-pound junior Dee Milliner, a first team all-American. The home grown Milliner was also a finalist for two prestigious postseason awards (Nagurski, Thorpe).
Bama’s starting secondary includes corners 5-11, 179-pound junior Deion Belue and 6-0, 182-pound frosh Geno Smith.
Roving at safety posts are 6-2, 210-pound senior Robert Lester and 6-1, 209-pound sophomore Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix.
Nose guard Jesse Williams is a 6-4, 320-pound native of down under (Brisbane, Australia). At defensive ends are 6-3, 286-pound senior Damion Square and 6-4, 284-pound junior Ed Stinson.
Junior Cody Mandell handles punting chores.
Monday night’s game kicks off shortly after 8:30 on the ESPN network. Brent Musburger calls play-by-play with ex-Buckeye Kirk Herbstreit serving as color commentator.
Sideline reporters include Tom Rinaldi and Heather Cox.
Gibson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org