FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. >> Good omen or curse?
Someone’s phone rang during Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s final media appearance today before Monday’s national championship game against Alabama.
The ring tone was “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the 1986 No. 1 hit song by Fighting Irish fan Jon Bon Jovi.
No. 1-ranked Notre Dame is undefeated at 12-0 only because of some very close wins. They include 29-26 in triple overtime against Pitt after the Panthers missed a 33-yard field goal in the second OT, and 20-13 in overtime against Stanford when the Cardinal had a call at the goal line go against them.
Many feel the luck of the Irish will run out against the Crimson Tide. Alabama (12-1) has won the national championship two of the past three years.
Regardless of how good or bad fortune weighs into the equation, most agree this game will feature physicality more than finesse.
“It’s a little old-fashioned in the sense that this is about the big fellows up front,” Kelly said. “It’s not about the crazy receiving numbers or passing yards or rushing yards; this is about the big fellas, and this game will be decided unquestionably up front.”
Alabama has a seasoned quarterback in AJ McCarron who led the Tide over LSU in last year’s title game. But most expect running back Eddie Lacy to carry most of the offensive load behind an outstanding offensive line led by center Barrett Jones. They will go up against a Fighting Irish defense that allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season and a nation-leading 10.3 points per game.
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is much less experienced than McCarron, but Alabama coach Nick Saban said he is wary of the Fighting Irish’s multiple schemes.
“They have some mismatch players on offense that they’ve maximized their performance, and their quarterback has consistently improved throughout the season.”
Kelly was asked to contemplate Notre Dame’s future after Monday’s game, without team leader Manti Te’o, the All-American linebacker from Laie and Punahou.
“Manti Te’o, what he’s done for us off the field is probably as important as what he’s done on the field,” Kelly said. “He’s gotten incredible accolades and awards for what he’s done on the field, but his leadership was in a large degree why we’re here, as well.
“You really don’t know because you have new leaders stepping up. And we didn’t know what we had with Manti off the field yet, and that’s why if there’s any surprise as to why we’re here, it’s because of the great leadership that we got from him and our other seniors and we hope this experience and how important it is to have that has helped shape the next group of leaders that we’ll have next year.”