In last season's BCS championship game, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron shed his label as simply a game manager by throwing for 234 yards and earning MVP honors in the Crimson Tide's 21-0 rout of LSU.
McCarron is quietly preparing for another BCS title game against Notre Dame on Jan. 7, with the microscope now falling on Irish counterpart Everett Golson.
A 6-foot, 185-pound redshirt freshman from Myrtle Beach, S.C., Golson does not produce outlandish statistics, but he has been at his best in the biggest games. The Irish were given little chance at Oklahoma in late October but stomped the Sooners 30-13, and a trip to a talented but underachieving Southern California resulted in a 22-13 triumph that capped a 12-0 regular season.
"This season has been the definition of a growing process," Golson said. "To come in inexperienced and having to go through the trials and that adversity -- at the end of the day, if you're tried like that, that's what makes great players great. You have to be tried."
Golson has completed 166 of 282 passes (58.9 percent) for 2,135 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He threw for more than 200 yards in each of his last four games, with seven touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly believes there will be some nervousness with Golson as well as everyone else competing at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, but he likes the fact his quarterback already has experience on national stages.
"The kid started three or four games that were on national television and in pretty hostile environments," Kelly said. "He started at USC, at Oklahoma and at Michigan State, so he's got enough seasoning. I would be very, very surprised if he can't handle the moment.
"Once he gets into the flow of the game and you start seeing him smile a little bit, I think everyone who watches him knows that's when he plays his best."
The Irish are 10-point underdogs to Alabama, but they were 10-point underdogs at Oklahoma. The Sooners tied that game at 13 with nine minutes remaining, but Golson went 4-for-4 for 74 passing yards on the next drive to set up his 1-yard touchdown run.
Golson threw for 177 yards against the Sooners and rushed 11 times for 64 yards.
"I think once he knew after the Oklahoma game that he was the guy, the confidence level and the trust builds and builds and builds," Kelly said. "I think that's why I'm confident that the moment won't be too big for him, because he knows that we've got 100 percent confidence and trust in him that he can go in and win us a national championship."
Golson was rated by RIvals.com as the No. 16 dual-threat quarterback in the 2011 signing class, two spots behind the only quarterback -- Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel -- to defeat Alabama this season.
Alabama humiliated LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson in last year's BCS title game, holding him to 53 passing yards and 15 rushing yards on 14 carries. Jefferson also had a knack for posting adequate numbers but coming through in the toughest tests, most notably in LSU's regular-season win in Tuscaloosa.
"We want to take away the run and make them one-dimensional," Crimson Tide safety Robert Lester said. "If we can take away the run and force them to put the ball in the air, it gives us more chances to make plays on the ball and gives more chances for them to make mistakes."
Said Kelly: "We're going to have to throw the football. We're going to have to find some big-chunk plays. He is going to have to be integral in that. He knows that, we know that, and I think Alabama knows that, too."
So now it's Golson entering a BCS title game being viewed as decent but not dynamic. McCarron, who recently said, "I feel like I've been here for 15 years," took the next step in New Orleans, but does Golson believe he can as well?
"I think I'm very confident with myself and my teammates," Golson said. "We've always kind of been the underdogs, but we've worked our way up from the bottom and have shown great resilience."