- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Can Notre Dame defy any and all expectations one final time?
When Alabama has the ball: When push came to shove in the SEC title game against Georgia, the Tide ran, ran and ran some more. They piled up a ridiculous 350 rushing yards and, to cap it off, hit Amari Cooper for a 45-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game winner. Cooper has slowly but surely become one of the better receivers in the country. He cannot be overlooked when talking about this matchup, as the Irish will certainly try to keep the Tide from establishing a rhythm on the ground and aim to rattle quarterback AJ McCarron, who has had tremendous protection from his offensive line all season long. If Notre Dame can get to the MVP of last year's title game, it will put itself in great position to pull off the win.
When Notre Dame has the ball: Everett Golson and the offense cannot play tentative, not on this stage and not against an Alabama defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in six different categories. The redshirt freshman has come a long way in a short time, and he will have to make some plays through the air and on the ground in order to win this game. Tyler Eifert could play a huge role in that, too, as the tight end is unlike anything Alabama has faced this season … even in the SEC.
Intangible: Notre Dame has won five games by seven or fewer points this season. Like Auburn in 2010, which won five games by three or fewer points en route to the title, these Irish have been tested over and over again, and they have withstood every challenge. Brian Kelly said he doesn't believe in teams of destiny, but the Irish have looked the part during this unexpected, remarkable journey. If the game is close late, they have every reason to think they can and will win this game. Alabama, meanwhile, has pulled off two for-the-ages victories of its own, against LSU and Georgia, while falling to Texas A&M. But the Tide do have Nick Saban, who has mastered the process of a long layoff and is going for his fourth national title, and third with the Tide.
Prediction: Alabama 21, Notre Dame 17. In an epic championship clash between two titans, Alabama's defense makes one final stand as time expires.
2hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
19hSam Khan Jr.
22hDavid M. Hale