Alabama vs. Notre Dame. The BCS championship game couldn’t get much bigger.
The Crimson Tide locked up a spot in the title game in Miami on Jan. 7 with a 32-28 victory over Georgia for the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday.
The hype can begin now for what could be the most-watched BCS title game since the system was implemented in 1998. It’d be hard to find two more popular programs and a more enticing matchup.
The top-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) have won eight AP national titles -- matching Alabama for the most -- but none since 1988. They’ll be playing in their first BCS championship game.
Alabama (12-1) is making its third BCS title game appearance in four years. The Crimson Tide is trying to become the first team to win back-to-back BCS titles, and three in four years.
"We created a great opportunity for ourselves," Alabama coach Nick Saban said after his Tide beat the Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Irish and Tide have played six times, though not since 1987. Notre Dame is 5-1 against ‘Bama, including a 24-23 victory in the Sugar Bowl in 1973 that gave the Irish a national championship. They also played in the Orange Bowl in 1975, and the Irish won 13-11.
The buildup for this one, however, will be unmatched.
"I’m pretty sure it gets the old-heads excited, people that are in their 50s and 60s," Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley told The Chicago Tribune.
A return to glory for Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish or a dynasty for Saban’s Tide? Seven straight BCS titles for the SEC or the end of a 23-year national championship drought for Notre Dame?
There will no doubt be plenty of people tuning in to find out.
The highest rated BCS championship game was Southern California, going for three straight national titles and back-to-back BCS championships, against Texas in 2006 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. That game drew a 21.7 Nielsen rating.
Alabama’s BCS title win over Texas in 2010 drew a 17.17 rating, a close third behind the 17.4 Florida-Ohio State drew in 2007.
Considering Notre Dame’s regular-season finale against USC had a 10.3 rating, higher than any of the BCS bowls last season other than the championship game, it’s a safe to say this year’s championship game has a chance to blow by the record.
The rest of the BCS lineup also fell into place on championship weekend.
No. 7 Kansas State took the Big 12’s BCS bid with a 42-24 victory at home against Texas. Collin Klein ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, making a final case for the Heisman Trophy.
The Wildcats are headed to the Fiesta Bowl, and Oklahoma could give the Big 12 two BCS teams.
Earlier Saturday, the No. 12 Sooners won 24-17 at TCU to finish the regular season 10-2 and share the Big 12 title.
On Friday night, Stanford grabbed a spot in the Rose Bowl and the chances for a BCS buster decreased.
Northern Illinois’ 44-37 victory in double overtime against Kent State on Friday night gave the Huskies the Mid-American Conference title, and ended the Golden Flashes’ BCS hopes.
Kent State needed to move up one spot in the BCS standings to No. 16 to earn an automatic bid. Northern Illinois came into the weekend 21st in the standings. The Huskies have a chance to get into the top 16 and into the BCS, too -- but it will be tough.
Boise State is shooting to be a BCS buster again as well. The Broncos beat Nevada 27-21 to earn a share of the Mountain West title. The Broncos, who were 20th in the BCS standings, would need to break into the top 16 and finish ahead of the MAC champs.
The chances for a BCS buster improved thanks to Wisconsin, which pounded No. 14 Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten championship game Saturday night. The Badgers will go to the Rose Bowl for the third straight season, and the Cornhuskers, 12th in the previous BCS standings, might be in store for a long fall. That could boost the chances of Northern Illinois or Boise State.
If there is no BCS buster bid, the Sooners (10-2) look like a logical choice to be given an at-large bid. No. 15 Clemson (10-2) could also be in the mix for an at-large bid.
Oregon (11-1) and Florida (11-1) are locks to be at-large selections.
No. 13 Florida State is headed to the Orange Bowl after beating Georgia Tech 21-15 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Louisville earned the Big East’s BCS bid by beating Rutgers on Thursday night, 20-17.
Championship game: Notre Dame vs. Alabama.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Stanford.
Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Oklahoma.
Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Louisville or Northern Illinois.
Fiesta Bowl: Kansas State vs. Oregon.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap