By Kirk McNair, BamaMag.com
Three players to watch
A.J. McCarron, QB -- McCarron is a two-year starter with a 24-2 record, one BCS National Championship, one BCS MVP award, and statistically the most efficient passer (173.8) in the nation. 'Bama has had a few good quarterbacks in its history (Starr, Namath, Stabler, et. al.) and McCarron set the Crimson Tide record for touchdown passes this year with 26. He is completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,669 yards with only three interceptions.
C.J. Mosley, LB -- The 6-foot-2, 232-pound junior earned All-America as he leads Alabama with 99 tackles. (Second for the Tide had 56.) He also has seven tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions (one returned for one of his career 'Bama record three touchdown runbacks), two pass break-ups, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and was voted by his teammates as Alabama’s MVP of 2012.
T.J. Yeldon, RB -- Although Eddie Lacy is the Tide’s starter and has rushed for 1,182 yards (6.4 per carry) with 16 touchdowns, Tide opponents don’t get much of a break when true freshman Yeldon (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) enters the game. Yeldon has rushed for 1,000 yards (6.5 yards per carry) with 11 touchdowns. Alabama has a fourth-quarter scoring advantage of 111-40.
Already a BCS champion, A.J. McCarron can cement his place in 'Bama lore with a win.
The offensive line of the Crimson Tide is widely regarded as the best in the nation and among the best in the history of college football. Leader of the group is center Barrett Jones, who has won the Outland and Rimington awards in his career. He and fellow senior, guard Chance Warmack, are projected as first-round draft choices, and all five are expected to play in the NFL.
Although Alabama lost tailback Trent Richardson as the third player picked in last year’s NFL draft, and even though the Tide suffered injuries to two tailbacks in the early going, 'Bama tailback play with junior Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon has been very good. Alabama rushed for 224.6 yards per game, 20th in the nation.
Alabama is known for great defensive players, but the Tide’s lofty defensive ranking is in great part because of Alabama’s defensive strategy. Alabama is known as a 3-4 team, but the Tide is in that alignment only about 20 percent of the time. Before the snap, the Tide will have a total of about 15 players either on the field or prepared to go in as the opposing offense gets its personnel into the game. Alabama will immediately match that offensive grouping, the result being the Tide will often be in a 4-3, nickel, or dime with the possibility of a blitz coming from any of the linebacker or secondary spots. A no-huddle-hurry-up offense can disrupt the Tide strategy.
Important thing you may not know
Indeed, Alabama has good defensive players and defensive coaches (headed by Nick Saban) who have a good strategy. 'Bama ranks second in the nation in scoring defense (10.7 points per game) and first in total defense (246 yards per game). But against three top 10 teams (LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia) Alabama gave up 1,247 yards, over 400 per game. As a result, Bama lost at home to Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel and barely got by LSU on the road and Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. For the year, 'Bama was plus 13 in turnovers. In those three games the Tide were minus-6.
What Alabama must do to win
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Alabama has been in this position before, most of the coaching staff and many of the players a part of the 2011 national championship team, several also a part of the 2009 title team. Although Notre Dame’s best player is linebacker Manti Te’o, 'Bama wants to face him as much as possible, meaning keeping the ball for long drives that result in touchdowns.
If Alabama can run the ball, that opens up the passing. Defensively, 'Bama will want to take away the run and must keep Irish quarterback Everett Golson in the pocket. Psychologically, the Crimson Tide must believe it has to play its best game of the year.