SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly didn’t mince words when describing what a matchup between his team and Alabama means in the history of college football.
Iconic, Kelly said Sunday night when it became official that No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) will play No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the BCS championship game Jan. 7 in Miami.
Two great programs with great tradition, how can you not think about the houndstooth hat of (former Alabama coach Bear Bryant) and then (former Alabama coach Gene Stallings)? Then you think of (former Notre Dame coaches Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz) and the tradition. It’s college football. It’s what it’s supposed to be.
The rest of the BCS matchups appeared to do what it is supposed to do: spark debate about the system. Northern Illinois crashed the party out the MAC, drawing an Orange Bowl game against Florida State and taking away a bid from Oklahoma. The other matchups have Oregon facing Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl; Wisconsin playing Stanford in the Rose Bowl; and Florida taking on Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
But it is the main event that has the tradition with Notre Dame and Alabama combining for 16 national titles between them.
The Irish, who secured their spot in the title game by finishing the season undefeated with a 22-13 win at USC on Nov. 24, hasn’t won a title since it last went undefeated and finished the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 in 1988.
The Crimson Tide, which earned its spot in the title game with a 32-28 win over Georgia in the SEC title game Saturday, won five outright titles under Bryant, one under Stallings and has become nearly as dominant under coach Nick Saban, winning titles last year and in 2009.
For these two storied programs to play in a national championship game makes it even more special, Saban said. I think this is one of the great things in college football, and I’m sure a lot of people are excited to see two great teams matchup.
While the history of the two programs will be talked about entering the game, Kelly said the past will not help either team when the title is on the line next month.
We’re just trying to be the best team on Monday, Jan. 7, Kelly said. All of that tradition, what’s happened in the past, is not going to help us Jan. 7, but we do respect the traditions.
Notre Dame also respects what it has seen from Alabama.
Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said he was impressed by what he saw in the Crimson Tide on Saturday.
Alabama has a real strong physical line, and we got to bring our A game, Lewis-Moore said. What really impressed me most about Alabama is the way their running backs are. They run hard. They run powerful. We are really going to have to wrap up.
Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick said playing the defending national champions and trying to stop Alabama from winning a third title in four years also adds to the matchup.
It makes it very special, Riddick said. But regardless if they were there or Georgia came in, it’s a great, significant game. Regardless of who is there, it is going to be a major game, but to have them as our opponent it just makes everything a little more meaningful.