BCS title game: Tide’s ticket to success

It’s not often that a grind-it-out showcase of physical teams has a strong likelihood to aesthetically please the masses. But that’s where we stand with this year’s Game Of The Century, pitting No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama in the BCS championship.

Two glamorous programs. Two power running clubs. Two defenses that have been remarkably stingy this season.

For Notre Dame, it’s a chance to bring home its first national title in 24 seasons. For Alabama, it’s a golden opportunity to become the first program to repeat as national champs in the BCS era.

Here’s one overview/recipe for success on Monday night:

Top Players

CB Dee Milliner

The ultra-athletic Milliner ranks third all-time in passes defended in Alabama history (34 — stat courtesy of The Montgomery Advertiser). He also serves as a back-end anchor to a prolific defense that ranks second nationally in points allowed (11 per game), behind only Notre Dame.

WR Amari Cooper

Cooper’s absurd freshman numbers (53 catches, 895 yards, nine TDs) run comparable to Julio Jones’s output from his 2008 campaign (58 catches, 928 yards, four TDs).

However, Cooper’s impact goes deeper than gaudy tallies. He had to assume a greater load in the passing game after receivers DeAndrew White (knee) and Kenny Bell (broken leg) went down with injuries, and his fourth-quarter touchdown against Georgia — perhaps the most impressive toss of AJ McCarron’s tenure — sparked another SEC championship for Alabama.

Of his last eight complete games, Cooper has averaged 5.5 catches, 95 yards and one touchdown per outing.

RB Eddie Lacy

For the season, spanning 13 games, Lacy (1,354 total yards, 17 TDs) accounted for 97 total yards and/or one touchdown 12 times. That includes five outings of multiple TDs.

RB T.J. Yeldon

Yeldon (1,131 total yards, 12 TDs) will likely serve as the backfield wild card. A highly-touted freshman from Daphne, Ala., Yeldon has caught fire of late, posting three games of 100-plus rushing yards since Oct. 13 and rolling for at least one touchdown in each of his last eight outings (10 in that span).

Against Georgia, Lacy (181 yards) and Yeldon (153) combined for 334 rushing yards and three touchdowns. If the pair can collectively reach the 200-yard mark on Monday, Alabama stands to have a decisive edge over Notre Dame, the nation’s No. 4 rush defense. For that to occur, Yeldon must quickly take the pressure off Lacy and McCarron.

Which brings us to this…

In the 14-year history of the BCS title game, the winning quarterback has claimed per-game averages of only 229 yards passing and 1.9 total touchdowns.

Sure, Chris Weinke (2000), Ken Dorsey (2001), Matt Leinart (2005), Vince Young (2006) and Matt Flynn (2008) had monster title games for their respective teams, but by and large, history has shown that you don’t need elite quarterback play to bring home a championship.

Strengths

— The Crimson Tide ranked 14th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 39 points per game.

— Of equal importance, Alabama posted a top-21 national ranking in runs of 20 yards or more (25).

— The Tide held first-half averages of 120.2 rushing yards (6.2 yards per carry) and 0.84 touchdowns over 13 games.

— The Alabama offensive line, anchored by center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker, had no peer in college football this season. It’s a dominant, physical and versatile group.

— The Tide were highly proficient in the red zone this year, converting 51 of 57 trips for scores (41 touchdowns, 10 field goals).

— Alabama ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 11 points per game.

— Going one step further, the Tide led the nation in rushing defense, yielding only 80 yards per outing.

Weaknesses

Texas A&M and Georgia were arguably the most balanced offenses on Alabama’s 2012 schedule. The Aggies and Bulldogs averaged 28.5 points, 20.5 first downs, 406 total yards and 0.5 turnovers against the Tide.

Telling Stat

17: Alabama is a scintillating 11-0 this season when holding opponents below 18 points. The other two outings involved a gut-wrenching home loss to Texas A&M (29-24 on Nov. 10) and 32-28 win over Georgia in the SEC title game.

Keys To Victory

1. In BCS title-game history (spanning 14 years), the winning club has either won or tied the turnover battle 12 times. The exceptions were Tennessee beating Florida State in 1999 and Texas beating USC in 2006.

2. Of Notre Dame’s six signature victories in 2012, it led five opponents (Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Oklahoma, USC) by a cumulative halftime score of 53-22. Only Stanford — which lost in overtime — held a lead over ND after 30 minutes of play.

For Monday night, the Crimson Tide must forge a lead, or at least stay within shouting distance of the Irish by halftime. They cannot expect a repeat of T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy running wild against Georgia after the Bulldogs went up 21-10 in the third quarter.

3. In championship games, it’s easy to dismiss what role emotion plays with similarly constructed or equally-talented squads. Alabama simply cannot get too high off a fast start … or too low, if the initial mojo swings in Notre Dame’s favor.