Which brings us to Alabama, a team with history within its grasp despite a late loss to Texas A&M and harrowing finishes against LSU and Georgia. Unlike its predecessors, whose repeat bids were all built around the same core of (mostly offensive) headliners that had claimed the title the previous season, the Crimson Tide "dynasty" is a triumph of a finely-honed system that transcends individual icons. The cornerstones of last year's championship team were only pups during the 2009 run, and subsequently left en masse for the NFL Draft. The defense alone lost six starters, four in the first two rounds, and the offense lost a Heisman finalist. Yet the 2012 Tide still led the nation in total defense, finished second in scoring defense, and improved its scoring average on offense by nearly a field goal per game. In Nick Saban's program, a revamped cast is no incentive to change the script.
All that's left now is to take the final step against a heavy underdog that no one (save maybe Lou Holtz) expected to be in this position. The Fighting Irish are the first team in BCS history to make the final game despite beginning the season unranked. They're also built in Alabama's image, around a disciplined, hard-boiled defense that compensated for a lack of firepower offensively by yielding fewer points than any other team in the nation. Seven of Notre Dame's twelve opponents in the regular season failed to score an offensive touchdown, and none scored more than two. Saban often talks about judging his team by its own standard of excellence rather than the scoreboard, and in this case the message is quite literal: To etch its name among the sport's true dynasties, his team must defeat a version of itself.