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Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood, center, has averaged 6.7 yards per run in gaining 740 yards this season, second most on the Irish team.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - While Alabama uses tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon as a 1-2 rushing punch, Notre Dame employs tailbacks Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III as well as quarterback Everett Golson.

That Irish quartet has totaled 2,286 rushing yards, with Riddick (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) leading with 880. Wood (6-foot, 215) has 740 and is averaging 6.7 yards per run, with Atkinson (6-1, 210) next with 361 and averaging 7.1.

"They all get opportunities to run all our plays," Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said Friday, "and then you try and slot the guys in positions where you know they can help the team the most. Whether it's an inside run, outside run, pass blocking or receiving, we try to utilize all their strengths.

"Truth be told, they all could be the feature back."

Martin said Riddick is "pound for pound as good a football player as they make," and he gave Wood and Atkinson similar praise from an explosive standpoint. Atkinson's father played defensive back for the Oakland Raiders from 1968 to '77, helping win Super Bowl XI after the '76 season.

"I think it has helped us out tremendously, and it's definitely helped out Everett and opened up a lot of passing yards for him in terms of our play-action and loosening up defenses," Riddick said. "When your number is called, you make the best of it."

Golson has rushed for 305 yards and 3.4 a carry in his first year of action. He is attempting to become the first freshman starting quarterback to win a national title since Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway in 1985.

Liking his crew

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart believes this year's defense may be his favorite in light of the preseason prognostications that had the Crimson Tide slipping from previous standards.

"They didn't have bad expectations, but a lot of you guys in the media had bad expectations for this group," he said. "We lost four or five draft picks off last year's team, but we had a lot of good players behind those guys. This group had a chip on their shoulder and felt slighted that people didn't think they'd be good."

Smart said one of the matchups he will miss most in practice is that of senior defensive end Damion Square and redshirt junior right tackle D.J. Fluker, who could turn pro following Monday's game.

"Damion does a great job, but I just cringe at the thought of having to hammer big Fluker every play," he said. "They have good wars. They get after each other, and I think that's what makes us who we are."

Not in a hurry

It's old hat. Alabama reaches a BCS championship game, and Smart gets asked about his aspirations to move up the coaching ladder.

"Ultimately my goal is to be a head coach, and where that is I have no idea," he said. "But it's not like I wake up every day trying to leave Alabama. I have the best non head-coaching job in the country."

Smart, who interviewed weeks ago for the Auburn opening that went to Gus Malzahn, said there is no need to press for a head-coaching vacancy, because he just turned 37.

Luck of the Irish?

The luck of the Irish seems to be taking on a different meaning these days, as Notre Dame players continue to hear about being underdogs to Alabama.

"We do have a lot to prove," Irish junior receiver TJ Jones said. "A lot people are doubting us. A lot of people are saying 'Good luck,' as in if we win it will be luck.

"I think we have a lot to prove just to show that just because we play up North and we don't play SEC schools that we can compete."