Cirminiello Final Thoughts: Golson the key
Posted Jan 7, 2013

Rich Cirminiello's Final Thoughts before the 2013 BCS championship

Fiutak: Great matchup, okay teams
Cirminiello: Golson, Golson, Golson
Zemek: Trenches, trenches, trenches
Harrison: Is there really an SEC dominance?
Johnson: It's 2002 Ohio State
Doan: Matchup nightmare for Alabama

Fair or not, it all comes down to the play of Everett Golson, doesn't it?

There is not a ton of separation between Notre Dame and Alabama, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Both teams are brick walls on D, loaded with size, toughness, next-level talent and more than a month to prepare for tonight's highly anticipated finale. Extending drives, snapping off big chunks and reaching the end zone won't come easy. The Tide, though, has a veteran quarterback protected by one of the best lines that the game has seen in years. The Irish? Well, their fate rests with a rookie.

AJ McCarron has been on this stage before, quarterbacking ‘Bama to last year's national championship over LSU. Golson has never been in a game of this magnitude. And has never faced a D like the Tide's, which has the brains of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart and the brawn of the nation's top-ranked defense.

Golson has improved since being periodically benched in favor of Tommy Rees in the first half of the year. He's a better decision-maker than he was in September. No doubt. But hasn't his development been more than a little overstated during this protracted period of evaluation and analysis? While he's seeing the field differently, a lot of those looks came against marginal defenses from Pitt, Wake Forest and Boston College. What happens when ‘Bama brings pressure, mixes its looks and hits him harder than he's felt all year? Can we honestly expect Golson to be the linchpin against a well-prepared Saban D? Just don't see it happening.

Golson must stretch the Alabama defense, both with his feet and his right arm. If he's unsuccessful, the likelihood of an Irish upset plummets exponentially. Notre Dame is not going to run the ball with any consistency. Its O-line is scrappy and underrated, but that won't be enough against an opponent yielding 2.5 yards a carry and 79 yards a game. If the Irish become predictable, so, too, will the Tide defense.

In order to win its first national title in a quarter-century, Notre Dame needs Golson, a redshirt freshman, to play against Alabama the way he did versus Wake Forest. It just seems so unrealistic. Golson as the difference-maker against ‘Bama, Saban and the mystique of the defending national champ. Sounds an awful lot like No. 7 in a row for the SEC.