Our senior college football writers and bloggers pick their winners for Monday night's BCS title game between Notre Dame and Alabama and explain the reasons behind their selections. As a group, they're 6-4 in favor of Alabama winning its third national title in four years.
Dennis Dodd, Senior College Football Columnist
In a way, the Tide are competing against themselves, their legacy, more than against Notre Dame. That's why this is going to be close. Like three points close. Like 16-13, Alabama. Nothing wrong with that. A win is a win, but the Tide have to understand what they're getting into. Quicksand. It's where Notre Dame likes to play.
We call them "grinders" -- slow, stupefying, punt fests. Your average SEC game on valium. If Bama thinks it is ready for that pace, it must think again. Notre Dame has beaten Michigan 13-6 in a game filled with seven interceptions, two fumbles and five punts. It held Oklahoma to 13 points -- in Norman. It survived goal-line stands against Stanford and USC.
The key element in this game is Notre Dame's stout defensive line holding up against Alabama's offense. The Irish's front seven -- populated with three 300-pounders up front -- may be the best unit on the field. They will hold Notre Dame in the game to the fourth quarter.
Alabama 16, Notre Dame 13
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Bruce Feldman, College Football Columnist
I'll admit I never thought Notre Dame would be here -- in Miami for the BCS title game. Well, certainly not this year.
Going into this season, the Irish had, on paper, what looked like the roughest schedule in the country. They also had an unstable QB situation and major issues in the secondary. I figured if they went 8-4, it'd seem like a good third year for coach Brian Kelly. Nine wins would've been really good, and 10 wins would make a truly great season for a program that hadn't finished in the Top 25 since 2006.
I always figured eventually the Fighting Irish and their young secondary would get exposed at Oklahoma or at USC, but neither of those things happened. So now, after seeing ND up close, I have to admit I am a believer.
I am convinced Notre Dame, the program that has been fueled by more false hope than any other outside of Florida State in the past two decades, is going to be the team that ends the SEC's BCS title run. Still sounds kinda crazy when I reread this. (Yeah, Brian Kelly is that good a coach.)
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The Fighting Irish D, as I have said numerous times over the past two months or so, is led by a huge -- and surprisingly nimble -- front seven that looks every bit as ferocious as the best the SEC has. Notre Dame also has a dynamic trio of versatile running backs; an emerging young QB with the wheels to extend plays and the moxie to handle big moments to go along with a great difference-maker at tight end in Tyler Eifert. The pieces are in place. Better still, after all of the tight moments and goal-line stands, I now believe this bunch has been emboldened such that they cannot lose. Too many things have gone their way for this team to come into Monday absolutely convinced this is their year.
Notre Dame 17, Alabama 16
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Jeremy Fowler, College Football Insider
Tempting to pick Notre Dame. Really. Offense has improved, tight end Tyler Eifert could be best playmaking tight end Alabama faces all year, and the defensive line is stocked with 300-pounders to bang up front with Alabama's rushing attack. But two things stand out in Alabama's favor -- AJ McCarron's experience will prevail in the second half, and the Tide's one dominant trait, the running game, will wear down the Irish late. Will be tighter than some think. Notre Dame is too battle-tested to be rattled. Its players have had 40-plus days of people telling them how they're the inferior team, and quarterback Everett Golson can find some running creases on Alabama's front. But it won't be enough.
Alabama 24, Notre Dame 21
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Tony Barnhart, Mr. CFB
Alabama will find a way to slow down the Notre Dame running attack and make Everett Golson "uncomfortable" throwing the football on third and long. If Golson can avoid turnovers, the game will stay close. If he doesn't, Alabama dominates.
Alabama 17, Notre Dame 13
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Jerry Palm, Bracketology Expert
The Irish defense has withstood every challenge this year, and here comes the best one yet. Alabama's offensive line is littered with All-Americans, and if the Tide can do what no other team has done so far, run the ball effectively against Notre Dame, they may cover that lofty spread. I think it more likely comes down to a championship QB, AJ McCarron, making a championship play late in the game and giving Alabama its third title in four years.
Alabama 20, Notre Dame 17
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Tom Fornelli, Eye on College Football
If you look around this bowl season there seem to be some warning signs for the SEC. Two programs that have won national titles during the SEC's run of dominance, LSU and Florida, lost their bowl games -- and to teams from the ACC and Big East to boot. Is Alabama the next to falter? I think so. Not because of LSU or Florida, but because I think Alabama's strengths play in to what Notre Dame wants its opponents to do. So in what is going to be a very close, defensive battle, I think Notre Dame manages just enough points to end Alabama and the SEC's dominance. Everything comes to an end eventually.
Notre Dame 17, Alabama 14
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Jerry Hinnen, Eye on College Football
This season's BCS Championship Game isn't a rematch, but it might be a redux. Like LSU in 2011, Notre Dame has arrived at its undefeated season and No. 1 ranking primarily via lockdown defense led by a surprise Heisman candidate. Like LSU, it sports an often low-fi offense spearheaded by a pounding ground game and a single star receiver (with Tyler Eifert playing the Rueben Randle role). And like LSU, its closest shave of the season was survived only via an opponent's missed field goals. The good news for Notre Dame is that there's a major difference between last year's planet-conquering Alabama defense and this year's occasionally pliable unit, a difference that should see Notre Dame cross the 50 more than a few times and even put up some points. The bad news is that Notre Dame's special teams aren't nearly the game-changers that LSU's were. In the end, the 2013 edition won't be the humiliation 2012's was ... but especially after a month-plus of Nick Saban preparation, the Irish offense won't have the juice to prevent another two-touchdown snoozer either.
Alabama 27, Notre Dame 13
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Matt Hinton, Eye on College Football
Alabama opened as a 9.5-point favorite and remains a 9.5-point favorite, an impressive show of faith in the Crimson Tide's ability to score against a team that held half its opponents to 10 points or fewer and never allowed more than 20 in regulation. Where Bama's defense began to show cracks down the stretch against the best teams on the schedule, Notre Dame's was always a rock. Against five opponents that appeared in the national polls at any point this season -- Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC -- the Irish allowed a grand total of 48 points on two offensive touchdowns. Of the nine touchdowns the Irish have allowed this season, only the first one, a 25-yard touchdown pass by Navy in the season opener, has come from outside of the red zone, and only two have come on drives that began inside the opposing 40-yard line. Even when they bent, they never broke.
Still, they have not faced an offense that runs between the tackles as effectively as Alabama, and there was not another offense this season that complemented the brawn with such a lethal play-action game. Overwhelming as they are on the offensive line, the Tide should not be able to shove around Notre Dame's front seven as easily as they did Georgia's in the SEC title game. If they're able to establish anything on the ground, though, they have the weapons outside to make the Irish pay for inching a safety toward the line -- a trick no other offense has been able to pull, and only Oklahoma and USC had the firepower to exploit if they had. More important, Alabama has an efficient, veteran quarterback who has proven himself on this stage before, opposite a redshirt freshman who was on the verge of losing his job over the first half of the season. The defense can hold up its end of an old-fashioned rope-a-dope that hinges on a single turnover or final possession, but the margin for error is too small. If Alabama does break through, it's hard to see how the Irish can keep up.
Alabama 26, Notre Dame 17
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Chris Huston, Eye on College Football
These two teams are a lot alike. They both like to grind it out on offense and win games with defense. When teams play this kind of style, the outcome usually depends on field position and turnovers. As a result, we're unlikely to see either offense force the issue too much. This will be a physical game and Notre Dame has the talent in its defensive front to stave off the powerful Tide running game, but the real wild card is Irish quarterback Everett Golson. If he can limit mistakes in the passing game and keep drives alive with his feet, then Notre Dame will have a shot. Bama won't go down without a fight and it has the experience to handle the big stage, but the Irish have championships in their DNA. I think Notre Dame will pull off the upset and end the string of SEC titles by winning how it has always won this season -- through defense, turnovers and a little bit of luck.
Notre Dame 20, Alabama 17
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Chip Patterson, Eye on College Football
It has been a weird season. From the record-shattering West Virginia-Baylor game to Johnny Heisman, the season has been full of firsts and strange endings. Maybe the final one comes in South Beach? Louis Nix III could line up opposite a hobbled Barrett Jones and disrupt the Alabama offensive line. Brian Kelly could call the perfect game with the rapidly improving Golson totally in in control. I think Alabama dominates most of the game, but Notre Dame's red-zone defense forces the Tide to leave points on the board. After that, the Irish find some points off turnovers and Golson leads a fourth-quarter drive for the go-ahead score.
Notre Dame 21, Alabama 20