Breaking down the BCS title game

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It’s been a while since the two most legendary schools in college football history have run into each other.

No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0), which has won eight national titles since the poll era began in 1936, and No. 2 Alabama (12-1), which has won a record nine, haven’t met since 1987. They haven’t battled in a bowl since Jan. 1, 1975.

But on Monday at Sun Life Stadium, the Fighting Irish and the Crimson Tide finally will see each other again. If the meeting is anything like their previous two bowl meetings, it will go down as a classic.

On Dec. 31, 1973, No. 3 Notre Dame defeated No. 1 Alabama, 24-23, to win the AP national title in the Sugar Bowl (the Crimson Tide claimed the coaches’ title that season since bowl games then were not included for that poll). After the next season, on Jan. 1, 1975, the No. 9 Fighting Irish upset No. 1 Alabama, 13-11, in the Orange Bowl to deny the Crimson Tide a national crown.

With the teams back in South Florida 38 years later for another much-anticipated match-up, here’s a look at how the game breaks down:

Quarterback

Notre Dame: Everett Golson might not put up gaudy numbers, but he doesn’t make mistakes. He’s thrown just five interceptions this season, only once having more than one in a game. Golson, who has thrown for 2,135 yards and run for 305 yards, is a versatile threat.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide have had plenty of great quarterbacks, including Joe Namath and Ken Stabler. But none has thrown more TD passes in a season than A.J. McCarron, who has 26 in 2012. McCarron has passed for 2,669 yards with just three interceptions. It’s no wonder he leads the nation in passing efficiency.

Advantage: Alabama

Running backs

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have a one-two punch of seniors Theo Riddick, who has gained 880 yards, and Cierre Wood, who has 740. Riddick has four 100-yard games, and Wood has three. Wood has piled up his yards despite missing the first two games of the season because of a suspension.

Alabama: It’s no surprise when Alabama has a 1,000-yard rusher. But two? Eddie Lacy has rushed for 1,182 yards and T.J. Yeldon an even 1,000. Both have impressive rushing averages (Lacy 6.4 and Yeldon 6.5) and have seen the end zone plenty (Lacy 16 rushing TDs and Yeldon 11).

Advantage: Alabama

Receivers

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish spread the ball around well, with five players having caught 24 or more passes. Tight end Tyler Eifert, a second-team AP All-American and solid NFL draft prospect, leads the way with 44 catches for 624 yards. Among wide receivers, tops is T.J. Jones, who has caught 43 passes for 550 yards.

Alabama: Freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper, a Miami native making a homecoming, is a potent weapon, having caught 53 balls for 895 yards and nine TDs. A big-play guy is Kenny Bell, who has averaged an amazing 25.4 yards a grab. Bell broke his leg Nov. 24 against Auburn but is expected back against Notre Dame.

Advantage: Even

Offensive line

Notre Dame: Guard Mike Golic Jr. has a shot to do something his father, Mike Golic Sr., couldn’t do: win a national title at Notre Dame. The father is a former NFL defensive lineman. Center Braxton Cave is the Fighting Irish’s most decorated offensive lineman, having been named third-team All-America by AP.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide have three top NFL prospects in tackle D.J. Fluker, center Barrett Jones and guard Chance Warmack. They’ve shown their ability in opening holes for Lacy and Yeldon. Jones and Warmack were first-team AP All-Americans and Fluker made second team. Nobody on Alabama’s rugged line weighs less than 300 pounds.

Advantage: Alabama

Defensive line

Notre Dame: Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, a 6-foot-6, 303-pound sophomore, is a terror. He leads the Fighting Irish with 12 sacks and had a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the opener against Navy. Louis Nix is a rugged nose guard, and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore has six sacks.

Alabama: Senior defensive end Damion Square is regarded as the vocal leader of Alabama’s defense. Nose guard Jesse Williams was named second-team All-SEC. The Crimson Tide have a solid, if not spectacular, defensive line.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Linebackers

Notre Dame: It all starts on defense with Manti T’eo, a Heisman Trophy finalist who finished second in the voting. He leads the Fighting Irish with seven interceptions and 103 total tackles. He’ll be a high NFL pick. Prince Shembo has 10.5 tackles for loss, and Dan Fox is a steady all-around performer.

Alabama: First-team All-America C.J. Mosley is Alabama’s big-play guy. He leads the team with 99 total tackles. Trey DePriest and Nico Johnson, the second- and third-leading tacklers on the Crimson Tide, are solid. Adrian Hubbard has a team-high six sacks.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Defensive backs

Notre Dame: Cornerback Bennett Jackson has picked off four passes and is tied for second on the team with safety Zeke Motta with 61 tackles. Motta, a senior, is the leader in the secondary. Motta will be making a bit of a homecoming since he’s from Vero Beach, Fla., about two hours north of Sun Life Stadium.

Alabama: Cornerback Dee Milliner is a first-team All-American, a top NFL draft prospect and a real shut-down guy. Safety Robert Lester is tied for the team lead with four interceptions and was chosen second-team All-SEC. Alabama recovered well in the secondary after losing NFL first-round picks Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick.

Advantage: Alabama

Special teams

Notre Dame: George Atkinson III, whose father won a Super Bowl 36 years ago with the Oakland Raiders, is a speedy kickoff returner. Kyle Brindza is 23 of 31 on field goals and has made a 52-yarder. Punter Ben Turk is steady and has a 40.6 average.

Alabama: Christion Jones is a big-time returner. He has a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD and leads the Crimson Tide in punt returns with a 10.2 average. Alabama uses two kickers with success in Jeremy Shelley, who handles short ones, and Cade Foster, who kicks long ones. Punter Cody Mandell averages an impressive 43.8 yards.

Advantage: Alabama

Coaching

Notre Dame: Brian Kelly has quickly built back up a Notre Dame program that hasn’t won a national title since 1988. After having two straight 8-5 seasons, Kelly steered the Fighting Irish to their first undefeated regular season since 1988. It’s the second undefeated regular season in four years for Kelly, who led Cincinnati to a 12-0 mark in 2009 before bolting to Notre Dame.

Alabama: When all is done, Nick Saban will go down as one of the greatest coaches in college football history. He’s going for a second straight Alabama national title and third in four years. He also won a 2003 national crown at Louisiana State. The only thing Saban hasn’t done is have NFL success. He’s returning to South Florida, where he went just 15-17 with the Miami Dolphins in 2005-06, his only NFL head gig.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson