Alabama center Barrett Jones says he'll play

by | CBS Sports
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The most pressing question facing No. 2 Alabama headed into practice before the BCS National Championship Game was the health of Barrett Jones.

When asked, the senior center left no doubt.

"The ankle feels great," Jones said. "I'm ready to roll."

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Notre Dame and Alabama players and coaches met with members of the media Thursday morning at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa leading up to Monday night's title game.

As both squads take to the practice field Thursday, Jones is nearing full health after sustaining an injury to his left ankle in the SEC title game win over Georgia on Dec. 1.

Jones had recently returned to practices in Tuscaloosa leading up to Alabama's trip to South Florida and will be available once the Tide conduct their first practice in Miami at Barry University on Thursday afternoon.

While Jones was sidelined, however, the Alabama training staff ensured that he wouldn't fall out of conditioning while his ankle healed. The center's rehab consisted of a healthy dose of swimming and exercise on an Alter-G Treadmill, which reduces body weight to help heal lower-body injuries.

"I think the first day back I was a little rusty," Jones said. "And then the second day, I was a little less rusty and hopefully today I'll be feeling good. It certainly helps that I've started 49 games. That's an advantage. I'm not worried about that at all."

As the week progresses, Jones is optimistic that he will be at full strength by Monday night.

"I'm pretty close to 100 percent now and I think by the game, I should be 100 percent," he said.

SEC dominance

With an Alabama win Monday night, the Southeastern Conference will have won the past seven BCS Championships. As the Crimson Tide start the practice week, players aren't paying much attention to the streak and what it means for the conference.

"We think about what we have to do headed into the game and all the things we can do in order to put our team in a good position," junior running back Eddie Lacy said.

Added junior wide receiver Kevin Norwood: "To tell you the truth, it's basically -- like coach [Nick Saban] said to us last week -- it's about what we do and the opportunities that we get and we're trying to take advantage of them. We really don't pay attention to the things on the outside."

For Notre Dame, however, a win would not only establish its return to college football's elite, but also end the streak of SEC dominance in the national championship. Because many college football followers outside of the South are expected to support Notre Dame, some of the players are embracing the opportunity to topple the trend.

"This is why you come to Notre Dame," junior linebacker Danny Spond said. "This is why you play football. When you're seven years old, this is what you dream of. Playing for something greater than yourself is something that Notre Dame has embodied in all of its players. We live and die for such a great tradition of football and being able to be back on this stage that represents something so much greater than ourselves is such an honor."

The last national champion outside of the SEC was the 2005 Texas Longhorns team that defeated USC, 41-38.

Attacking the Irish defense

Alabama set a program record for most points scored in a season in 2012, with 500 through 13 games. The Tide offense surpassed 1973's squad, which amassed 477 points under coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Alabama was awarded the UPI national championship before the 1973 Sugar Bowl. Coincidentally, Notre Dame defeated the Tide in a 24-23 thriller in that game to claim the AP national championship, thus splitting the title.

Alabama's offense this year provides a balanced attack of a power rushing game that yields to play-action passes from quarterback AJ McCarron.

In traditional Alabama fashion under Saban, players and coaches lauded the Irish defense Thursday morning.

"They do a really good job of making big plays on the defensive side," McCarron said. "Most of the time your thinking going into the game is to win the offense from big plays, but their defense makes a lot of big plays, too."

Notre Dame's front seven has anchored its defense throughout the season. The Irish secondary, however, entered the season inexperienced, but has played well enough to stifle opposing passing offenses. In fact, both of Notre Dame's starting cornerbacks -- junior Bennett Jackson and freshman KeiVarae Russell -- switched to the position out of necessity because of injuries and transfers.

"They rarely play press," Norwood said. "They do a lot more of zone ... The things that I've seen that they do different is that when they go in zone, they move back fast. They get back in coverage fast and they try to stop the intermediate routes and it's going to be a challenge."

Spond pays tribute

Irish linebacker Danny Spond grew up in Littleton, Colo., and attended Columbine High School.

After the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month, a reporter asked Spond about his personal experience in dealing with the Columbine shooting.

"I was in second grade when it happened, so I wasn't too educated on it," Spond said. "From what I've gone through and I went to Columbine High School and was a part of that history, it brought us together. It brought the community together and built a society that takes care of each other."

When he arrived at Notre Dame, Spond felt he had to do something to pay tribute to his hometown and his community.

"One cool thing for me is that I wear the No. 13 because there were 13 victims lost, so that's who I play for," Spond said. "I knew who had gotten me to this position and who had supported me, and without a doubt that was Columbine, so I wear the 13 with pride."

Follow Lorenzo Reyes @LReyesCBS

Follow Lorenzo Reyes @LReyesCBS

Follow Lorenzo Reyes @LReyesCBS

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