It is the Notre Dame’s first chance at a national title since 1988, but who they play is yet to be decided.
Alabama and Georgia are currently No. 2 and No. 3 in the BCS standings respectively, and the winner of their matchup in the SEC title game Saturday will face Notre Dame on Jan. 7.
Both teams are the cream of the crop in the always-loaded SEC, but each has their own strengths and weaknesses and one would be a far better matchup for the Irish, who are actually listed as 9.5 point underdogs to Alabama and four-point underdogs to Georgia.
The SEC is traditionally the most stacked conference in college football, with speed, power and athleticism across every position. Consider that seven of the first 18 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft hailed from SEC schools.
Alabama and head coach Nick Saban are loaded once again at all parts of the field. Guard Chance Warmack is projected to be a top 5 pick in 2013, and so is cornerback Dee Milliner, who has two interceptions this season.
However Georgia possesses perhaps the nation’s best defender in outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. With 72 tackles, 10.5 sacks and another 28 quarterback hits this season, Jones can wreak havoc on any opponents' offensive line. And right behind Jones is linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive tackle Johnathan Jenkins.
Notre Dame is the most storied college program in history, but recruiting has taken a hit in recent years. Linebacker Manti Te’o is one of the best defensive players in the country and should be taken in the first round of next year’s NFL draft, but the rest of the Irish are not nearly as heralded.
Despite all that talent, the Bulldogs defense have been inconsistent this season. Georgia started off slow, allowing 20 or more points in four of their first five games, including 44 points against unranked Tennessee in the final week of September.
Georgia then suffered their only loss of the season, in a 35-7 drubbing to South Carolina, in which they gave up 230 rushing yards.
This season, Alabama was on pace to surpass last year’s prolific defense. Allowing just 9.3 points per game, the Tide allowed three touchdowns in their first four games, and held teams scoreless for 12 consecutive quarters this season.
Notre Dame has traded the title for "best defense in the country" with Alabama throughout the year. The Irish give up 10.3 points per game, just behind Alabama, and are ranked sixth by allowing 287.25 total yards per game.
Notre Dame and Alabama have the same basic formula for winning: rush and defend.
The Irish average over 200 yards on the ground per game, and have 22 rushing touchdowns for the season. Seniors Theo Reddick and Cierre Wood have split carries this season, totaling 1,620 yards and nine touchdowns.
Alabama gains 214 rushing yards a game, and also sport a two-running back system with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Lacy has 1,001 yards and leads the team with 14 touchdowns on the year.
Georgia boasts a far more diverse offense, led by quarterback Aaron Murray’s 30 touchdowns and 3,201 passing yards. The junior has four games of at least 300 yards passing, and six games with three or more touchdown passes. The Bulldogs also have star freshman running back Todd Gurley, who has 1,138 yards and 14 touchdowns this year.
Alabama clearly has the biggest advantage in coaching, with Saban aiming for his fourth national championship, and second straight.
Georgia’s Mark Richt took over in 2000, and has led the Bulldogs to six SEC East titles, and two conference championships. He also has a 7-4 bowl game record, with two appearances in the Sugar Bowl, but has never captured a national championship.
Brian Kelly is now in his third season with the Irish since joining in 2010. His previous job was with Cincinnati, who he led a 12-0 season and a Sugar Bowl berth in 2009 but left for Notre Dame before that game was played. Kelly has a 3-2 record in bowls, and in 10 years as a head coach in Division-I he has claimed three conference titles.
Kelly will have his team ready no matter who they play, and while both teams will be a tough test for the Irish, Georgia would be a more favorable matchup.
The Bulldogs haven't been nearly has consistent on defense as Alabama, who has the experience, talent, and coaching to smudge Notre Dame’s amazing run this season.