For the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it’s been way too long since they last played for a national championship. For Alabama, playing in the BCS Championship game is the normal way to end a season.

That’s is the difference in this one. Alabama are gunning for their third national titles in four years, quickly returning to the front of College Football under Nick Saban. Notre Dame haven’t won a national title since 1988 and haven’t been close to one in nearly 20 years. Unlike the Tide, no one saw them coming this season.

And even when the wins kept piling up, no one was willing to bet they were going to beat Oklahoma in Norman. But the best defense in the nation came through, and the push for the Irish to finish in the top 2 began. They were trailing in the polls, but they didn’t fall on the field like Oregon and Kansas State did, eventually coming up big in the final game against USC, remaining as the only undefeated team in the nation.

Few argued that Alabama were the best in the nation for most of the season, but then came the loss to A&M that shook up the polls. Despite still feeling that no one is as good, they had to fall down the rankings, until Oregon and KSU lost. Then came the big win over Georgia in a fantastic SEC title game, and with it the number 2 ranking, although they’re still favorites by more than a touchdown to win the game.

The yards numbers for both teams are very similar – Alabama outgain Notre Dame by only 18 yards per game, but they score almost 12 points more per contest. The question, as it has been in plenty of games this seasno for the Irish, is about the ability of its defense to keep ND in games and winning despite the offensive problems. Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Manti Te’o lead a unit that gave up only 10.3 points per game this season.

The Tide’s defense has been just as good – allowing only 10.7 points per game, second in the nation, but first when it comes to yards, giving up only 246 per game. A big key for Notre Dame is going to be time of possession. With a very good running game, led by Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, they averaged 32 minutes, 34 seconds per game, 11th in the nation. A big part of why their defense has been so good? They’ve been getting plenty of rest, despite not having too many points to protect.

In order to get anything going on offense, Notre Dame need to pass. Their offensive line will struggle against the defensive front Alabama present, which means Everett Golson will need to take more risks after throwing only 5 interceptions this season. The key for Alabama on offense is getting a running game going, very hard to do against Notre Dame. How? Block Te’o and another linebacker, Dan Fox, while blocking nose tackle Louis Nix.

Prediction – All season long Notre Dame have been disrespected. They do need to play a bit out of their preferred style in this one, but Golson is talented enough to not mess it up. Unless Alabama force him to a couple of turnovers, the Irish’s defense will be enough to pull them through a very close one.