If Notre Dame can be disliked nationally as much as the New York Yankees, and if the Southeastern Conference can be disliked nationally as much as the New York Yankees, how is this BCS championship game going to work?
Notre Dame and Alabama officially earned invitations Sunday to this season's college football title showdown, which will be staged in Miami on Jan. 7. The Irish are historically stout but are seeking their first national crown since 1988, while the Crimson Tide rolled to championships under Bear Bryant and are doing the same under Nick Saban.
With Alabama hunting its third BCS title in four years and a seventh straight for the SEC, might Brian Kelly's Irish actually be the adored team in this pairing?
"I think there is still a dividing line where it's 50-50," a laughing Kelly said Sunday night. "I was down in Atlanta yesterday, and the Georgia cheerleaders were booing me. We still have our following out there, and I think what's really great about it -- it's college football. There is great pageantry and great passion.
"Alabama and all their fans will be in Miami, and Notre Dame will invade as well. I just think it's great for college football to have both teams, but I don't know if we've picked up any more fans along the way."
Since the implementation of The Associated Press poll in 1936, Notre Dame and Alabama have each won eight national championships. Oklahoma is next with seven.
There is sure to be plenty of tradition talk between now and kickoff, but the coaches wouldn't mind that passing quickly.
"Certainly the tradition of Alabama and Notre Dame bring a special attention to it," Kelly said, "but we're just trying on our end to be the best team on Monday, Jan. 7. All of that tradition and what's happened in the past is not going to help us, but we do recognize and respect the history and tradition of these two great universities coming together on the football field."
Said Saban: "It really doesn't make any difference how many game-winning shots you made in the past. The only one you've got to focus on is the one that you've got to shoot right now."
Saban will be coaching his first game in Miami since his two-year stint heading the NFL's Dolphins during the 2005-06 seasons. His decision to leave was not warmly received by Dolphins supporters.
"I know there may be some people a little upset with some things that happened in the past, but we have a lot of good friends there," Saban said. "We love it there and have a lot of good relationships with a lot of people, and it's one of the finest places in the country. The Orange Bowl is a great venue, and a lot of people are going to work hard to make it a first-class event.
"We're looking forward to the game. The game is why we're coming."
Crimson Tide senior center Barrett Jones suffered a foot injury during the first quarter of Saturday's 32-28 win over Georgia in the SEC championship game but played through it. Saban said that Jones will need a couple of weeks to recover but that he should be fine by the start of bowl practices.
Alabama amassed 350 rushing yards in turning back the Bulldogs, who ran out of time at the Tide's 5-yard line.
"One of the goals that we set for this team at the beginning of each season is to play for a national championship," Tide junior linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "It has not been easy this season and there are several different times we could have let the opportunity slip away, but we pulled together, fought through adversity and found a way to make it to Miami."
After the SEC title game, Saban and his players were in no hurry to concern themselves with Notre Dame. Saban said you can't begin practicing too soon, or else players would become too stale and bored.
"It was honor to win this game with the magnitude it had and to represent the SEC in January," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "We've got quite a while to worry about Notre Dame, so I'll worry about them in a little bit."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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