The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

December 2, 2012

Star power in BCS title game

NEW YORK — On one side, a blossoming dynasty from the college football capital of the Deep South. On the other, the sport’s most famous team, trying to reclaim its place among the elite.

Notre Dame and Alabama bring star power and power football to the BCS championship.

The matchup became official Sunday night when the final standings were released and, to no one’s surprise, the Fighting Irish were first and the Crimson Tide was second.

The one bit of drama on college football’s selection Sunday was whether Northern Illinois could be this year’s BCS buster. The Huskies got in, getting a spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida State, taking a bid away from Oklahoma and sparking heated debate about a system that never fails to tick off fans in some way.

As for the main event in the penultimate Bowl Championship Series, there was little controversy: No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 2 Alabama in Miami on Jan. 7.

The Irish clinched their spot a week ago in Los Angeles by completing a perfect season against rival Southern California.

Alabama earned its spot Saturday, beating Georgia 32-28 in a thrilling Southeastern Conference title game.

The program that coach Paul Bryant turned into an SEC behemoth in the 1960s and 70s, winning five national championships and sharing another during his tenure, is again dominating college football with a modern-day version of the Bear leading the way in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are on the verge of one of the great runs in history. Alabama would become the first team to repeat as champs since the BCS was implemented in 1998, and it would be the 11th time a team has won consecutive AP titles since the poll started in 1936. Alabama is already one of seven programs to repeat. The Tide has done it twice. Notre Dame is another.

Alabama also won the 2009 BCS championship under Saban. The last team to win three major national titles in four seasons was Nebraska, which went back-to-back in 1994 and ‘95 and finished No. 1 in the final coaches’ poll in 1997.

In a world full of spread-the-field, hurry-up offenses, Alabama is a bastion of traditional football.

The Tide put its no-frills muscle on display Saturday, mashing Georgia with 350 yards rushing, most impressively when Alabama trailed 21-10 in the second half and you might have expected the Tide to open up its passing game.

Eddie Lacy, listed at a conservative 220 pounds, went for 181 against the Bulldogs to up his season total to 1,182 with 17 touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon, at 216 pounds, provides more speed with his punch. The freshman has run for 1,000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.

But this is no 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Both backs average over 6 yards per carry, behind an offensive line anchored by All-American center Barrett Jones. And quarterback AJ McCarron has thrown for 26 touchdowns with only three interceptions.

The Tide has been more potent offensively this season than last to make up for a defense that has slipped, but only a bit. Alabama leads the nation in total defense (246 yards per game) and is second in points allowed (10.7 per game). Linebackers Adrian Hubbard, Nico Johnson, CJ Mosley and Trey Depriest average 242 pounds.

When Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame three years ago, he looked at Alabama and the SEC, which has won six straight BCS titles, and decided the Irish needed to play like that.

Kelly built his reputation and winning teams at previous stops on fast-paced spread offenses. In South Bend, Ind., he has put the fight back in the Irish, who have won eight AP national titles – only Alabama has as many – but none since 1988.

Notre Dame has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the country (10) and is sixth overall in total defense (286 yards per game). The face of the Irish isn’t a strong-armed quarterback or speedy ball carrier. It’s middle linebacker Manti Te’o, a 255-pound offense wrecker with a nose for the ball. The senior has seven interceptions and is a likely Heisman finalist.

Te’o, along with 300-pound linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, have formed a red-zone wall for the Irish. Late goal-line stands highlighted victories against Stanford and USC.

While nurturing redshirt freshman Everett Golson, Kelly has leaned on Notre Dame’s running game, which averages 202 yards. Alabama averages 224 on the ground.

If Notre Dame, making its first appearance in a BCS championship, is going to break the SEC’s strangle hold on the crystal ball trophy, the Irish will try to beat ‘Bama at its own game.

And Kelly will try to uphold a Notre Dame tradition, by winning a national title in his third season as coach. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won it all in Year 3 playing in the shadows of the Golden Dome.

Notre Dame will try to become the first team since BYU in 1984 to start the season unranked and win a national title.

Expect plenty of fans to be watching. With the popularity of both programs, the second-to-last BCS title game is expected to be the highest rated ever.

In two years, college football switches to a four-team playoff to determine its champion. No doubt fans of Florida (11-1), Oregon (11-1), Stanford (11-2) and Kansas State (11-1) wish they could push the start date up on that, but for the most part there isn’t much griping about this championship matchup.

Notre Dame is the only undefeated team that is eligible – thanks to Ohio State’s NCAA sanctions – and Alabama is the champion of the league that has produced the last half-dozen national champs.

Roll Tide or return to glory? To be determined in South Florida.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Sports
  • SRU vs UPJ baseball0418 1 UPJ takes one, drops second

    John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
    Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0418 Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid

    Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
    Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drama lacking sans Tiger

    If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
    The course was there in all its splendor.

    April 18, 2014

  • Penguins 0418 Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets

    Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
    Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0417 Pirates power past Brewers

    Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
    Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0417 Jackets preparing for Game 2

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
    “It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local Sports Briefs

    April 17, 2014

  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Hawks already building toward next season

    Jason Spence used up his cell phone’s battery on a trip from Johnstown to his parents’ home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
    Once the Johnstown Tomahawks coach got to his destination, Spence had to get creative to secure cell service across the border.

    April 16, 2014

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo