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Notre Dame has not won a national title since 1988. Alabama has won three national titles in the last 20 years. Notre Dame claims 11 national titles. Alabama claims 14, and one of those is also claimed by Notre Dame. Two of the titans of college football meet for the BCS title, but all of the tradition and pageantry won't matter once kickoff comes.
So who wins? USA TODAY Sports Weekly asked Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com and Josh Ward of MrSEC.com to provide three reasons why the respective teams will win the championship.
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1. The quarterback advantage
Everett Golson should be commended for the season he has had as Notre Dame's quarterback. He has limited mistakes and found ways to make plays in his first year as a starter. But he hasn't been as productive or tested as much as Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who is playing in his second consecutive Bowl Championship Series title game.
McCarron has thrown for more yards (2,669 to 2,135) than Golson while throwing for 15 more TDs and two fewer interceptions. McCarron is 24-2 as a starter; Golson is 11-0.
McCarron is no stranger to the big stage either. He was MVP of last year's title game victory against LSU before leading Alabama to this year's Southeastern Conference championship. Notre Dame's defense is stout, but McCarron should be up for the challenge.
2. The little things
Alabama has an advantage in the areas that don't receive enough attention. While the Crimson Tide rank in the top 40 nationally in both kick- and punt-return-yard average, Notre Dame is outside the top 80 in both categories. Think field position won't be critical in this type of game?
Alabama has also been more successful in both kicking and punting, turnover margin and red-zone scoring.
These topics rarely make it to the water cooler, but they're important factors in close games.
This attention to detail has helped separate Nick Saban's teams from the rest. If Alabama does what it has all season, it should make enough plays to outlast Notre Dame.
3. Alabama will win its own game
Notre Dame focuses on running the football. Alabama has a better running game. Notre Dame relies on a physical, high-energy defense. Alabama does too, just at a higher level than Notre Dame.
The point is Notre Dame will try to beat Alabama at its own game, which won't be easy. Alabama tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon (both 1,000-yard rushers this season) have enough speed and strength to take on Notre Dame's pounding. Will Notre Dame's backfield be able to stand up against Alabama's defense?
Alabama is used to this kind of test. That's why the SEC has six consecutive BCS championships - with a seventh on the way.
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