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College Football Insider

Irish vs. Bama: the title matchup college football's been waiting for

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In a draft of storied college football programs, Notre Dame and Alabama would go top five, easy.

That's what makes the 37-day window until the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish meet in South Florida -- with a 26th combined national title on the line -- seem far too long.

These two are meant for each other, and even SEC elitists should acknowledge it.

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If Nick Saban's "process" was a hit record from the 80s, Notre Dame was the hip-hop producer who sampled it.

Saban believes you must win with a stout defense, glass-chewing linemen and a running game that treats opponents like a never-ending spin class. Notre Dame works that formula, only not against the SEC every week, which should only bolster this game's profile.

How does Notre Dame stack up against the South's death machine? Would the Irish really be the sixth or seventh best SEC team? Have they clawed out too many three- and six-point wins to fall flat in such a big game? These questions must be answered. They should have been answered a long time ago. These two haven't met in the postseason in nearly 40 years.

Lacy. Yeldon. Mosley. McCarron.

Te'o. Tuitt. Golson. Wood.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Brian Kelly is Saban in 2002, the ascending coach teetering on the cusp of greatness. Two coaches on top of their games will have more than a month to game-plan for each other. Terrific. Let the late-night zombie scheming begin.

Both teams have learned to grit out tough games. Notre Dame has done it all season, Alabama for five weeks, but a heckuva five weeks they were. Johnny Manziel's stomp through Tuscaloosa almost vaporized Alabama's third title chance in four years, but to the dismay of Florida, the Tide will wave to Gainesville on its way to the beach.

Both programs are even tied for the number of Associated Press national titles with eight.

Most recognize the Tide as the more talented team. But the Irish can play, and they look a lot like Alabama doing it.

In fact, the biggest contrast between Notre Dame and Alabama could be found late Saturday afternoon. The Tide escaped one of the most entertaining SEC Championship Games in decades, a 32-28 equal opportunity pounding of grown men at the line. The game was decided by five yards and a failed fade route.

Maybe Notre Dame players were watching, but the entire campus did its best to pretend not to care about the result.

Notre Dame had nothing planned for the event, with a media relations staffer saying players would be doing other things.

In the SEC, there is no other thing. But hey, Notre Dame's a football independent that can do what it wants.

The most buzz on campus Saturday came from a bride and groom taking their wedding pictures outside of the campus' famous Golden Dome.

The smoke-filled "Linebacker Inn" across from campus hosted about a dozen people watching football on Saturday. Pall Mall boxes, burger baskets and 32-ouncers lined the bar, but not much Bama talk.

On Friday, athletics director Jack Swarbrick worked from the quiet, quiet halls of the Guglielmino football complex.

Perhaps everyone was just exhausted after an intense season. But the Irish will be ready when the time comes. And South Bend will be, too.

Ara Parseghian knows it.

"It lights up the whole town," said the former Irish coach and two-time national title winner about Notre Dame's return to prominence. "To turn around and go 12-0 brings relevancy without question. A lot of people have been waiting for it."


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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