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Notre Dame

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Defensive end Stephon Tuitt’s team-leading 12 sacks helps give the Irish the edge on the line.

Matchups: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama

Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones was named an AP All-American and leads a line that that paved the way for a 224.6 rushing average.
Associated Press photos
Notre Dame QB Everett Golson passed for 2,135 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, but Alabama gets the edge.

Quarterback

Notre Dame: First-year starter Everett Golson came into his own when he returned from a concussion and led the Irish to a 30-13 win at Oklahoma on Oct. 27. In Notre Dame’s final five games of the season, the 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore went 87-of-147 passing for 1,167 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for three touchdowns. Golson completed 166 of 282 passes for 2,135 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, and he ran for 305 yards with five touchdowns this season.

Alabama: AJ McCarron went from a game manager last season when the Crimson Tide won their second national title in three seasons to a game changer this year. The 6-4, 210-pound junior finished as the nation’s most efficient passer with a 173.1 rating as he completed 191 of 286 passes for 2,669 yards with 26 touchdowns and three interceptions. He did have a tougher time against the four teams Alabama faced in the final BCS poll (Georgia, LSU, Michigan and Texas A&M) going 59 for 103 for 835 yards with five touchdowns and threw all of his interceptions in those games.

Advantage: Alabama

Running backs

Notre Dame: Theo Riddick, who played receiver the last two seasons, thrived back in his natural position as the 5-11, 200-pound senior ran for 880 yards with five touchdowns and caught 35 passes for 364 yards with a touchdown. Cierre Wood, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, missed two games because of a suspension, but the 6-foot, 215-pound senior ran for 740 yards with four touchdowns and averages 6.7 yards per carry. George Atkinson III gives the Irish a speed option, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, as the 6-1, 210-pound sophomore finished the season with 361 rushing yards on 51 carries with five touchdowns.

Alabama: The Tide have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in 6-foot, 220-pound junior Eddie Lacy and 6-2, 216-pound freshman T.J. Yeldon. Lacy ran for 1,215 yards on 184 carries with 16 touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards. Yeldon ran for 1,000 yards on 154 carries with 11 touchdowns and averaged 6.5 yards per carry.

Advantage: Alabama

Wide receivers

Notre Dame: The Irish made up for the graduation of star receiver Michael Floyd with depth. The 5-11, 190-pound TJ Jones led the receivers with 43 catches for 559 yards and four touchdowns. DaVaris Daniels, a 6-2, 190-pounder who is returning from a broke clavicle, had 25 catches for 375 yards, and 5-9, 185-pound Robby Toma had 24 catches for 252 yards. Former Bishop Dwenger star John Goodman had only seven catches, but the 6-3, 215-pounder scored on three of those receptions.

Alabama: The Tide’s receiving corps was hit by injuries to DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell, leaving only 6-1, 190-pound freshman Amari Cooper as their top threat. Cooper has 53 catches for 895 yards with nine touchdowns. The 6-2, 195-pound Kevin Norwood is second on the team with 26 catches for 395 yards and four touchdowns, and 5-11, 185-pound Christian Jones had 25 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Tight ends

Notre Dame: Former Dwenger star Tyler Eifert did everything the team could ask for this season. The 6-6, 251-pounder led the Irish with 44 catches for 624 yards and four touchdowns, and the Mackey Award winner (top tight end) improved his blocking and created mismatches by lining up at receiver. Troy Niklas, a 6-7, 260-pounder, converted from linebacker and had five catches for 75 yards with a touchdown.

Alabama: Michael Williams, a 6-6, 269-pounder, had 21 catches for 166 yards with three touchdowns. Kelly Johnson, a 6-3, 230-pounder who is also used as an H-back, had four catches for 34 yards, and 6-7, 258-pound Brian Vogler had two catches for 21 yards.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Offensive line

Notre Dame: The Irish line paved the way for a 202.5 rushing-yard average and gave up only 16 sacks. The line is led by 6-4, 304-pound left tackle Zack Martin and 6-3, 304-pound center Braxston Cave, a third-team Associated Press All-American selection. The Irish’s other starters are: 6-3, 310-pound left guard Chris Watt, 6-3, 295-pound right guard Mike Golic Jr. and 6-5, 309-pound right tackle Christian Lombard.

Alabama: The Tide’s line is filled with AP All-Americans, led by first-team selections Barrett Jones, a 6-5, 302-pound center who is returning from an ankle injury, and 6-3, 320-pound left guard Chance Warmack. D.J. Fluker, a 6-6, 335-pound right tackle, was named a second-team All-American. Cyrus Kouandjlo, a 6-6, 311-pound left tackle, and Anthony Steen, a 6-3, 303-pound right guard, round out a line that paved the way for a 224.6 rushing average.

Advantage: Alabama

Defensive line

Notre Dame: Coach Brian Kelly made a point of strengthening the line when he arrived three seasons ago, and that paid off this season. Stephon Tuitt, a 6-6, 303-pound end, led the team with 12 sacks and had 42 tackles. Louis Nix III, a 6-3, 326-pound nose tackle, had 45 tackles with 5 1/2 for loss, and Kapron Lewis-Moore, a 6-4, 306-pound end, had 39 tackles and six sacks. The Irish also have depth with 6-2, 286-pound Sheldon Day, 6-4, 290-pound Kona Schwenke and 6-6, 300-pound Tony Springmann – a former Dwenger star – combining for 36 tackles with 6 1/2 tackles for loss.

Alabama: Damion Square, a 6-3, 286-pound end, led a strong group with 33 tackles with four for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. Jesse Williams, a 6-4, 320-pound nose guard, had 36 tackles with 2 1/2 for loss, and Ed Stinston, a 6-4, 282-pound end. Backups include 6-4, 285-pound Jeoffrey Pagan, 6-4, 315-pound Brandon Ivory and 6-6, 304-pound Quinton Dial. They combined for 64 tackles with 9 1/2 for loss.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Linebackers

Notre Dame: Manti Te’o became the most honored player in history, collecting seven major postseason awards, after the 6-2, 255-pound All-American led the Irish with 103 tackles and set a school record for interceptions by a linebacker with seven. The 6-3, 240-pound Dan Fox and 6-1, 245-pound Carlo Calabrese complement Te’o on the inside with a combined 103 tackles with four for loss. On the outside, 6-2, 250-pound Prince Shembo had 48 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks, and 6-2, 248-pound Danny Spond had 38 tackles.

Alabama: C.J. Mosley, a 6-2, 232-pound All-American, led the Tide with 99 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two interceptions. Trey DePriest, a 6-2, 245-pounder, was second on the team with 56 tackles, and Nico Johnson, a 6-3, 245-pounder who can play either inside spot, had 54 tackles. On the outside, 6-6, 248-pound Adrian Hubbard had 39 tackles with 10 for loss, and 6-3, 262-pound Xzavier Dickson had 33 tackles.

Advantage: Alabama

Secondary

Notre Dame: The Irish got more than they expected out of group with only one player at the position he was recruited to play. Zeke Motta, a 6-2, 215-pound safety, helped bring along three first-year starters and finished tied for second in tackles with 61. Cornerback Bennett Jackson, a 6-foot, 185-pound converted receiver, also had 61 tackles and four interceptions. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell, a 5-11, 182-pound converted running back, had 50 tackles and two interceptions. Safety Matthias Farley, a 6-1, 200-pound converted receiver who took over for the injured Jamoris Slaughter, had 43 tackles and an interception.

Alabama: Cornerback Dee Milliner, a 6-1, 195-pound All-American, headlines an imposing group with 51 tackles, two interceptions and 18 breakups. Deion Belue, a 5-11, 179-pound corner, had 36 tackles and two interceptions. Robert Lester, a 6-2, 210-pound safety, had 42 tackles and four interceptions, and 6-1, 209-puond HaHa Clinton-Dix and 6-1, 208-pound Nick Perry, who share the other safety spot, combined for 67 tackles with Clinton-Dix getting four interceptions.

Advantage: Alabama

Special teams

Notre Dame: Kyle Brindza connected on 23 of 31 field goals and averaged 62.5 yards on kickoffs. Ben Turk averages 40.6 yards on punts. The Irish have struggled in the return game with Atkinson averaging 20.7 yards on kickoff returns, and Davonte’ Neal averaging 2.4 yards on punt returns.

Alabama: Jeremy Shelly went 11 for 11 on field goals, and Cade Foster, who went 4 for 9 on field goals, averages 63.4 yards on kickoffs. Cody Mandall averages 43.8 yards punting. Cyrus Jones averages 25 yards on kickoff returns, and Christian Jones, who returned a kickoff for a TD, averages 10.6 yards on punt returns.

Advantage: Alabama

Coaching

Notre Dame: Brian Kelly adjusted his schedule to spend more time with his team to produce the Irish’s first undefeated season since 1988. He will try to join Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz as an Irish coach who won a national title in his third season.

Alabama: Nick Saban has been here before. He will be trying to win his third national title with the Tide in four years and add a fourth title to his rèsumè after winning the national championship with LSU in 2003.

Advantage: Alabama

Prediction: Alabama has been here too many times before to lose to Notre Dame. Crimson Tide 17, Irish 10

tkrausz@jg.net

– Tony Krausz, The Journal Gazette

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