- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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We started this off last week. Here are some more nuggets courtesy of our friends at ESPN Stats and Info.
Notre Dame and Alabama have the most poll national championships since the Associated Press began its weekly poll in 1936. ESPN has made a policy of recognizing only poll-era national championships (since 1936). Both programs claim other national titles in the pre-AP era, but those are more difficult to legitimize, since there were several groups naming national champions back then, and hardly anyone watched teams from other regions of the country. The two teams have also met in bowl games that had national championship implications. Notre Dame beat Alabama in the 1973 Sugar Bowl to win the AP National Title. However, Alabama still won the UPI National title since it crowned its champion before bowl games were played. The next season, Notre Dame beat Alabama in the Orange Bowl to prevent Alabama for winning another national title. In all, Notre Dame and Alabama have played six times with the Irish holding a 5-1 edge. The two teams haven’t met since 1987.
Having already won in 2009 and 2011, Alabama is trying to win its third national championship in four years, which has been accomplished only twice in the poll era. Nebraska did it under Tom Osborne in 1994, 1995 and 1997, but the last of those titles was only in the coaches’ poll. The lone team to win three AP national championships in a four-year span was Notre Dame under Frank Leahy in 1946, ’47 and ’49. In addition, AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide are trying to become the first program to win back-to-back BCS championships. Three previous reigning champs have returned to the title game, but all three lost in their quest to repeat. McCarron will also try to become the first quarterback to win consecutive BCS national championships, something that Chris Weinke (Florida State), Ken Dorsey (Miami FL), and Matt Leinart (USC) failed to do.
Alabama is trying to win the SEC’s seventh consecutive national championship. Prior to this stretch, no conference had ever won more than three in a row. It would be the ninth BCS title won by the SEC. All the other conferences have six combined and no other conference has more than two.
Alabama’s Nick Saban is the only coach with more than two BCS titles and is one of just 10 coaches with three or more national championships in the poll era. A win on Jan. 7 will put him in some very elite company, as only three coaches have won at least four national titles. The names: Bear Bryant, Frank Leahy and John McKay. Because Nick Saban spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, he is trying to win his fourth national title in his past eight seasons as a college head coach. Only Frank Leahy has managed to win four in even a 10-year span.
Four different coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the poll era (since 1936). All four of those coaches captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame. Brian Kelly is currently in his third season in South Bend.
Notre Dame is third all-time in wins with 865 while Alabama is seventh with 826. Both teams also rank in the top seven in win percentage. The two teams met head-to-head six times with Notre Dame winning five of them. However, they haven't met since 1987, a 37-6 Notre Dame win in South Bend.
The last time an SEC team lost a national championship game to a team from outside the conference was when Nebraska beat Florida in the Fiesta Bowl to end the 1995 season (’96 Fiesta Bowl). Since that time, the SEC has won eight straight bowl games against “outsiders” with a national championship on the line. (doesn’t count Alabama’s win over LSU last year)
This will be Saban’s ninth championship game as a head coach. He is 7-1 in the previous eight (3-0 in BCS title games, 4-1 in SEC title games). The only loss was to Florida in the 2008 SEC Championship.
Notre Dame is 6-0 in road/neutral games this season with the closest one being a nine-point win over USC. Even though the Irish were also 6-0 at home, five of those six games were decided by seven points or fewer. Alabama has only two losses over the last two years, and both were in Tuscaloosa. The Tide have won 13 consecutive games away from home, which is the longest such streak in the FBS.
The BCS championship games have been split seven apiece between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final standings, but No. 2 has won seven of the last 10.
These are the nation’s top two scoring defenses, with Notre Dame allowing 10.3 points per game, and Alabama allowing 10.7. Last year’s national championship game was also a matchup of the top two scoring defenses, as Bama beat LSU, 21-0. Prior to that, there hadn’t been such a meeting in the postseason since the 1994 season.
The Tide have scored 21 points or more in 44 of their last 45 games. That’s three more than any other team in the FBS over this span.
No sophomore or freshman starting QB had ever won the BCS National Championship until Alabama's McCarron did it last year as a sophomore. Now, Notre Dame redshirt freshman Everett Golson has his chance.
In 2007, Alabama went 7-6 in Saban’s first season, while Notre Dame sunk to a historic low, finishing 3-9. In 2008, Saban took the Tide to the SEC title game, while the Irish continued their mediocrity, going 7-6. Entering the 2012 season, these two teams couldn’t have been more opposite in terms of success over the previous four years.
This will be the first time since 2006 that Notre Dame finishes a season in the AP Top 25, so it’s not surprising that the Irish weren’t ranked in this year’s preseason AP poll. They are the first preseason unranked team to reach a BCS championship game, and they are the first preseason unranked team to finish the regular season as AP No. 1 since BYU in 1984.
The last preseason unranked team to win a national championship was Georgia Tech in the coaches’ poll in 1990. The last team to do it in the AP poll (as Notre Dame can only do this season) was BYU in 1984.