- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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For college football old-timers -- as in any fan older than 40 -- it certainly raises an eyebrow to hear some folks malign an Alabama-Notre Dame matchup in the Discover BCS National Championship game. How can it be a bad thing that college football's two most storied programs are playing for all the marbles to conclude an unpredictable 2012 season?
It should give you shivers imagining those iconic uniforms squaring off with everything at stake.
Each has 13 national championships. Alabama under Nick Saban is on the cusp of officially establishing a dynastic run. The Crimson Tide is looking for its third national title in four years under Saban. Notre Dame under Brian Kelly, pardon the cliche, is reawakening the echoes. The Fighting Irish, who began the season unranked in the AP poll, have ranged between mediocre to bad since the program won its last national title in 1988, but Touchdown Jesus is again grinning (subtly, of course) in South Bend.
They say defense wins championships, and one dominant crew certainly will. These two defenses rank first (Notre Dame) and second (Alabama) in the nation in scoring defense.
There's also the curiosity of whom to root for if you don't have a dog in the hunt. Outside the Southeast, there's SEC exhaustion. Many would like to see the SEC not win a seventh consecutive national title. But it might be difficult for those same fans to muster much enthusiasm for the Fighting Irish, a program that is as reviled as it is loved.
Admittedly, we dwell on the rich history and interesting angles featured in the championship game to avoid some of the other BCS bowl matchups.
The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio features the first five-loss team in the game's history, as Wisconsin, playing in a third consecutive Rose Bowl, which matches where it finished in the Big Ten's Leaders Division, will take on Stanford. The Allstate Sugar Bowl offers Florida vs. Louisville. Who is picking the Cardinals in that one? They've lost two of their last three games, to Syracuse and Connecticut, teams that combined to lose 12 games.
In the Discover Orange Bowl, Florida State faces BCS buster Northern Illinois. It's great that the Huskies are crashing the BCS party, representing the MAC. But, well, suffice it to say the Seminoles will be favored.
Seeing that few give Notre Dame a chance against the fearsome Crimson Tide -- cue up a Saban sneer and shower scene music from "Psycho" -- the most interesting matchup of the bowl season might be the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, where Kansas State and Oregon will meet. Both are 1-loss teams that were national title contenders until a late-season upset. And then there's the little scheduling controversy between the two, as they were supposed to play this season until the Wildcats dropped the home-and-home series.
I know: "It was mutual!" protest K-State fans.
It's difficult not to imagine how things might look if we had the four-team playoff that will take over in 2014. Using the final BCS standings for that, the two national semifinals would pit No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 4 Oregon and No. 2 Alabama against No. 3 Florida.
Of course, that would still inspire controversy. Georgia fell to seventh in the BCS standings after playing in the SEC title game, but it beat Florida to win the SEC East. There would have been plenty of grumbles in Athens about those semifinals. Just know such grumbles won't go away, even after we gleefully stick a stake through the heart of the BCS.
It's not just BCS bowl games that might not inspire much excitement. The SEC's typically great lineup of bowl matchups with the Big Ten will be decidedly underwhelming because the Big Ten stunk it up this year.
In the Capital One Bowl, we have No. 7 Georgia against Nebraska, which just got stomped by Wisconsin, 70-31, in the Big Ten championship game. In the Outback Bowl, we've got No. 10 South Carolina against Michigan, which has four losses.
There are some good non-BCS matchups, of course. Clemson-LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl should be interesting. Texas A&M and Oklahoma, old Big 12 buddies, will square off in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
But this is not the most compelling lineup the bowl system has put together.
If you choose to dwell on the negative, then just keep in mind that the system will change dramatically in 2014. No guarantee it will turn your frown upside down, but it at least will offer something different.
Those of us who tend to be more optimistic will tune in to even the apparent mismatches. Why? Because it's college football, and an apparent mismatch -- Boise State-Oklahoma in 2007 or Utah-Alabama in 2009, etc. -- often ends up offering great theater or a shocking result.
As for Alabama-Notre Dame: We only expect it to be the most watched college football game in history.
15hDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff
2dESPN Stats & Information