The final game of the 2012-13 college football season is almost upon us. After more than five weeks of preparation, Alabama and Notre Dame will meet at Sun Life Field in Miami Gardens to battle for the BCS National Championship.
In advance of the game, let's look at five key storylines for the Crimson Tide:
1. The long layoff: UA coach Nick Saban thrives under these types of game situations. When everything is on the line and he has time for extra preparation, he's nearly unbeatable. In fact, he's 7-1 in championship games and he has never lost a national title game. But the layoff was interesting in another respect, too. The time away from the football field was invaluable for three players nursing injuries. Had Barrett Jones not had a full five weeks, who knows if he'd be playing. Linebacker Denzel Devall would not have been able to participate after hurting his knee. And what about wide receiver Kenny Bell? It's a surprise the junior is even on a football field right now after breaking his leg in the Iron Bowl.
2. The shape of the offense: Alabama's offense has been productive all season. That cannot be disputed. But the shape of it has evolved and changed throughout the year. With several weeks to dissect Notre Dame's defense and find areas to attack, it's anyone's guess what the Crimson Tide and quarterback AJ McCarron will look like on the field. Will they run into the heart of the Irish front seven? Or will they look at a secondary made up of many former wide receivers and choose to attack there?
3. Facing the front seven: With all due respect to LSU and Georgia, Alabama has not, in fact, faced a front seven as talented or as productive as Notre Dame's. There's a reason linebacker Manti Te'o was an option to become the first solely defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, and there's a reason Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt are hot NFL prospects in the trenches. They're a group that can do it all. They can stop the pass (11th nationally in pass efficiency defense), they can stop the run (fourth in rushing defense) and they can get after the quarterback (15th overall). They're big, they're strong and they're fast. "They're just a really, really good defense," said UA offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
4. Covering up the secondary: Dee Milliner had no trouble admitting it. "We did struggle a little near the end," he said of the secondary. Against LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia, the secondary appeared vulnerable. Notre Dame did not miss that fact in film study. Notre Dame all-purpose speedster Theo Riddick told reporters in South Florida that he thought they could attack Alabama through the air. But with a first-year starter under center it could prove difficult. The concern for Alabama fans is the progress quarterback Everett Golson has made down the stretch. After throwing for more than 200 yards just once in the first seven games, he has broken the mark in each of the last four. He threw for a whopping 346 yards and three touchdowns against Wake Forest, both career highs. Like McCarron last year, Golson is entering the BCS title game on the upswing, full of confidence.
5. Tempo, tempo, tempo:Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has hinted at it for weeks now: He's prepared to push the tempo against Alabama. Though Notre Dame's offense isn't necessarily the no-huddle type, it does have that capability and Kelly could look to utilize that tonight in Miami. Alabama's defense has struggled with offenses that don't allow it to set. Ole Miss found success getting defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's unit out of whack, as did Texas A&M. By pushing the tempo and running no-huddle, it takes away Alabama's greatest strengths: the ability to run set plays designed by Smart and Saban, as well as limiting their ability to mix and match personnel. And to those who would say Golson isn't in the same league as Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, just ask Smart. "The guy is a very good athlete," the defensive coordinator said. "He's got the ability to run the ball. He's got extremely great arm talent. He scrambles to throw but is a willing runner, we call it. So he will run if he has to, but he scrambles to throw the ball, find people open. … Both of them are youthful, and sometimes youth is a good thing. He doesn't have a very long memory. He forgets it and he's right back to the next play and will make another big play. So there are a lot of similarities between the two.”