- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: Every day from now until kickoff in Miami, TideNation will break down the match-ups position-by-position. Today we'll look at the battle of the coaches.
Alabama: Coach Nick Saban has been here before. So has defensive coordinator and AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year Kirby Smart, linebackers coach Lance Thompson, defensive line coach Chris Rumph and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Simply put, Alabama's coaching staff does not lack for championship experience heading into the Jan. 7 showdown with Notre Dame.
Saban is familiar with the BCS terrain having taken Alabama to the title game in two of the last three seasons. He's won all three of these games he's played, dating back to LSU's win over Oklahoma in 2003. He knows how to handle the time off and how to manage the pressure facing his players. He also knows better than most that the championship game is not a place to try out new tricks.
"Why do you have to come up with something new?" Saban said of incorporating new wrinkles against Notre Dame with so much time off. "Lots of people do. They think they have a lot of time to practice, so we can come up with a lot of tricks and different things like that. I don't necessarily think that's the way we've done it in the past. I think you technically do what you think you need to do to be able to attack the other team, doing things your players know how to do. If you try to do too many things they don't know how to do, they have a better chance of messing them up."
Notre Dame: What Brian Kelly has done in three short years at Notre Dame is nothing short of remarkable. It wasn't that long ago that the Fighting Irish were agonizing over a pair of failed coaches in Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. It was starting to look like the problems in South Bend were systematic, that the winning ways of Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Domers had run their course.
That, of course, was proven untrue. Kelly built his brand steadily, winning eight games in his first year and eight games the next. It all came together this season as Kelly brought what SEC fans recognize as a thoroughly Southern flair to his team. In other words, he brought smash-mouth, defensive football to another part of the country.
"I think it's very, very comparable," UA offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. "This is as good a front seven as we've seen. They do a great job jumping in and out of their odd defense and going from an odd to a four-down front, and they've got big, physical, fast players. They run well on the back end, very well coached. They're just a really, really good defense."
Final Verdict: For all that Kelly has done, he hasn't reached the promised land yet. This is his first time on the big stage and how he handles it is still to be determined. For Saban, that question doesn't exist. He has a track record and is working on the D-word at Alabama -- a dynasty. One could go on and on about Saban, but the quality of the UA coaching staff goes beyond the head coach. Smart is one of the hottest commodities in the profession and Nussmeier is making a name for himself after helping quarterback AJ McCarron to a school-record 26 passing touchdowns this season and producing the school's first tandem of 1,000-yard tailbacks.