The Irish, led by elusive sophomore quarterback Everett Golson, has a trio of talented running backs who help coach Brian Kelly play a similar style of ball-control football. The X-factors for the Irish: versatile senior Theo Reddick, who lines up all over the field, and 6-6, 251-pound tight end Tyler Eifert.
“Alabama is not what it was when it comes to having guys that do everything,” said Pollock, referring to how the Tide lost five defensive starters to last year’s NFL Draft — including four among the first 35 picks. “They’ve got more guys like [linebacker] Nico Johnson, who plays the run and is physical and [linebacker] CJ Mosley, who is a pass guy. When you’ve got guys like that can play tight end, running back, advantage Notre Dame because they get to use them as chess pieces, put them where they want to put them, motion them and find creative ways to get them the football.
“Alabama is the best in the country at finding out what you do best and taking it away,” he said. “But they’re scripted, they’re like robots. You take that away and make it unscripted, you make it backyard ball, and there is no right answer. It’s just Johnny Manziel running around making plays. It’s hard to defend. Corralling Golson’s feet is going to be huge in this ballgame for Alabama.”
The Tide, tabbed as a 10-point favorite, has followed coach Nick Saban’s orders all season and stayed away from the dynasty talk. With Saban it’s always about “the process,” the next step in their journey.
Winning Monday, though, would make Alabama the first team since Nebraska (1994-97) to win three titles in four seasons and equal the 49 wins the Huskers compiled over that stretch.
“It would mean a lot to win back to back,” Bama cornerback Dee Milliner said. “But when you get hooked up in a repeat, you forget your train of thought.”
Notre Dame, in search of its first national title since 1988, has no problem playing the underdog role.
The Fighting Irish have done it all season, starting the year outside The Associated Press poll’s Top 25 rankings and climbing week to week. The venture started in Dublin versus Navy and continued with wins over Oklahoma, USC, Stanford and a triple-overtime thriller over Pittsburgh.
“People always say that in order to be the best you’ve got to beat the best,” Notre Dame receiver T.J. Jones said. “So, if we want to be the No. 1 team in the nation and go undefeated, we have to beat an Alabama caliber team.”