When: 7:30 p.m., today
Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Line: Alabama by 10
1. Close games: Both teams are accustomed to having to fight out a tight contest. For Alabama, no more than five points separated the Crimson Tide from its opponents in three of its last five games. Notre Dame played five games with a final margin of seven points or fewer. If this one comes down to kickers, consider Alabama’s Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster have made 15 of 20, including 3 of 5 from 50 yards or more by Foster. Notre Dame’s kickers have made 24 of 32 field goals. Kyle Brindza made a 52-yarder against USC in the Irish’s only attempt beyond 47.
2. Kick returns: In the 1973 Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame turned the momentum with a kickoff return for a touchdown. Alabama didn’t allow another for 24 years. This year, the Irish haven’t had much luck returning kickoffs or punts. They rank 83rd nationally with 20.0 yards a kickoff return. On punts, they’ve returned 18 for 44 yards, and the 2.4-yard average ranks 115th. Alabama is 12th in kickoff returns and 40th in punt returns.
3. Full-time workers: Alabama’s Barrett Jones is expected to start today’s game, even though he is recovering from an injured left foot. That means Alabama’s starting offensive line will have stayed intact for all 14 games this season. For each contest, Jones has started at center, Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen at guard, and D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio at tackle. Warmack and Fluker are rocks of the line, in particular. Fluker hasn’t missed a start in two years, and Warmack has remained in the lineup since the first game of the 2010 season.
4. Red-zone matchup: Neither team gives up points easily, as Notre Dame ranks first in the nation in scoring defense, while Alabama is second. The Irish are especially good inside the 20, allowing only eight touchdowns in 33 opposing drives into the red zone. However, Alabama has managed 41 touchdowns in 57 red-zone trips on offense. Ten others resulted in field goals.
Alabama noseguard Jesse Williams vs. Notre Dame center Braxston Cave: Both are seniors and have started for two years, and while they cameras won’t focus on them often, they’ll participate in one of the most important battles of the game. Alabama coach Nick Saban has said the Tide’s pass rush needs push up the middle, and Williams can help a lot in that area. He did an excellent job in the SEC Championship Game until he sprained his knee. If he can get good push against Cave, you’ll see plenty of Williams’ teammates chase Notre Dame Everett Golson out of the safety of the pocket. While Golson is a good runner, he’s not necessarily a good passer when he’s on the run. Williams could finish without a tackle, but if he gets push up the middle, Alabama will shower him with credit afterward.
Player of the week
Eddie Lacy, RB, Jr., 6-0, 220: Finally over the list of injuries that slowed him almost all of last year and parts of this season, Lacy has turned into a pretty good successor to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. He doesn’t have near the star power of his offensive line, his quarterback or most of the Tide’s defense, but the league’s coaches still voted him first-team All-Southeastern Conference. He won most valuable player honors in the SEC Championship Game. With about five weeks off to rest his legs, he likely will run as hard as he has all year. And in the second half of the season, he was running awfully hard.
By the numbers
1: The number of times Alabama has had two running backs hit 1,000 years in the same season, with Lacy (1,182) and T.J. Yeldon (1,000) doing it this year.
9: Number of times Alabama has faced the nation’s No. 1 team, posting a 5-4 mark. The Tide beat Southern California (1977 regular season), Penn State (1979 Sugar Bowl), Miami (1993 Sugar Bowl), Florida (2009 SEC Championship Game) and LSU (2012 BCS National Championship Game).
13: The combined margin of victory by Notre Dame in its four wins over Bear Bryant-coached Alabama teams.
74: Successful kicks out of 74 tries by Alabama’s Jeremy Shelley, including 64 extra points and 10 field goals.
Mark Edwards’ prediction
Watch for the trick plays. In big games like this, if one coach doesn’t believe his team has an edge, sometimes he’ll turn to a trick play. Onside kick … on the opening kickoff. Fake punt. Halfback pass. Notre Dame has a fine team, but Alabama simply is better. Offense, defense, special teams, the Crimson Tide has the edge. In addition, Alabama has much more big-game experience. The Irish need some help from turnovers … or trick plays. Alabama 21, Notre Dame 18.