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January 7, 2013FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. | Picking a winner in tonight's BCS Championship Game, it seems, hasn't been about choosing one football team or another. Somehow, it has evolved into a political statement, a casting of allegiance with the old regime of the Southeastern Conference, who have ruled college football, in athlete years, for as long as the Byzantine Empire. The crown is worn, appropriately enough, by the Alabama Crimson Tide.
On the other hand, one can align with the forces of change, represented, inappropriately enough, by Notre Dame, the dowager duchess of college football. Nothing says "old school" like the Fighting Irish, home of Rockne and Leahy and the Four Horsemen, but for a nation weary of the SEC, there is nothing wrong with "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
But today is game day. So that is over. All that matters is picking which team of the two will be more successful at imposing its will on the other. The two teams will try to do, basically, the same things, and while there may be a surprise or two, the game will probably belong to the team with the fewest mistakes, not the one with the most imagination. Oregon is not here. These are power teams. Strength will be tested, not just physical strength, but mental strength.
Could Notre Dame win a game like that against Alabama? Sure. They are a fine team. They could force mistakes. But are they the likeliest team to win? No, and that answer is "no," no matter how many writers and announcers have convinced themselves otherwise.
An Irish pick isn't crazy, but it is trusting, frankly, in luck, of one defines luck as an outcome of events that is at variance with probability. Luck of the Irish and all that, but the last time I looked, Ireland didn't rule the world, because it doesn't have the might of America or China or Russia.
This matchup isn't quite as one-sided as that, but history favors the big, the strong, the resource-blessed. Alabama isn't impregnable in those categories -- this isn't even last year's Crimson Tide. If it was, I would predict a shutout.
Texas A&M found a way to win thanks to its incomparable quarterback, Johnny Manziel, who will be attending tonight (almost certainly not at Alabama's invitation.) LSU and Georgia came scarily close. But I look at Notre Dame and I don't see LSU or Georgia.
I respect Everett Golson, but I don't see Johnny Football. I see Michigan, and Penn State, and Michigan State, teams that Alabama has dominated in recent years. Yes, Notre Dame is better than those teams. It beat Michigan, for instance, by a touchdown. Yes, there may be a regional stereotyping that Notre Dame's roster has moved beyond. But Alabama wasn't just better than those recent opponents from the Midwest. It was far better, far more physical. Again, different teams, different years, different players, but it is a hard image to shake.
Anything can happen tonight. But Alabama is more in control of what will happen than Notre Dame.
"Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do," William Faulkner once said in an interview. "Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or your predecessors. Try to be better than yourself."
That is Alabama's goal tonight. The context is history. The reward, if this team can play its best, is dynasty. Its strongest ally is reality.
Alabama 28, Notre Dame 16.
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Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.