FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - No Southeastern Conference running back entered this season with bigger shoes to fill than Alabama redshirt junior Eddie Lacy.
Trent Richardson rushed for 1,679 yards last season, was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and helped lead the Crimson Tide to a BCS championship. Richardson previously backed up Mark Ingram, who rushed for 1,658 yards for the 2009 national champions and won Alabama's first Heisman.
"They left a very high standard here, and coming into this season I didn't want to shoot straight for their standard," Lacy said Thursday. "I just decided to play the game I know how to play, and whatever the outcome might be, let it be what it is. It ended up pretty good, and I'm pretty much up there with those guys."
Lacy has gained 1,182 yards through 13 games, and his 6.4 yards per carry top Ingram's 6.1-yard average in '09 and Richardson's 5.9-yard clip a year ago. Ingram and Richardson chose to bypass their final seasons to enter the NFL draft, and the 6-foot, 220-pounder from Geismar, La., will talk with his family after Monday night's BCS championship game before announcing his intentions.
Lacy rushed a career-high 20 times for a career-high 181 yards in helping power Alabama to a 32-28 win over Georgia in their SEC championship classic.
"I think that helped him a lot, because it really showcased what he can do," NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "He was running downhill, and he was running with authority. He's had some injuries, but he runs with power and has that spin move.
"For a junior who's thinking about coming out, he needed that performance, and obviously the Notre Dame game is going to be very important."
Kiper believes Lacy would be picked in the third or fourth round should he declare for the draft. Ingram and Richardson were first-round picks, with Richardson going third overall last April to Cleveland.
Locking up No. 5
Notre Dame senior Manti Te'o wears jersey No. 5, which is unique for an inside linebacker.
"It's kind of a simple story," Te'o said. "My dad and I were driving around Laie [Hawaii], where I grew up, and he asked me, 'Son, when you play football, what number do you want to be?'
"I was 5 years old, and I said, 'Five.' I've managed to be lucky enough to carry on that little tradition."
Te'o had a busy December traveling the country to various awards ceremonies, but Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said, "Manti has actually practiced harder the last week since the award circuit. He's practiced harder than he has all year long."
Not so powerful?
The SEC had six of the top 10 teams in the final BCS standings, but the league is just 3-3 so far in bowl games. Florida was a 14-point favorite over Louisville in Wednesday night's Sugar Bowl yet lost 33-23 after trailing by 23 points in the fourth quarter.
Alabama is a 9.5-point favorite over Notre Dame.
"You just can't take a team for granted and believe all the hype," Irish senior safety Zeke Motta said. "Northern Illinois held their own for a little bit against Florida State, and Louisville proved themselves against Florida. Obviously everybody expects it to go the other way, but there is no telling."
Take away the letter "J," and where would Alabama's offense be?
Redshirt junior quarterback AJ McCarron is 24-2 as a starter and leads the nation in efficiency. Freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon has rushed for 1,000 yards, and redshirt junior right tackle D.J. Fluker is a second-team All-American.
"I have never thought of that," Lacy said, "but that is a lot."