Can BCS title game challenge TV ratings record?

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NEW YORK (AP) - Two undefeated teams, three Heisman Trophy finalists, five lead changes and 19 seconds left when the winning touchdown was scored.

No other BCS title game has come close to matching that perfect formula for broad appeal. The 2006 tilt between Texas and Southern California was on in nearly 22 percent of American homes with televisions; the second-best number is under 18 percent.

Now, seven years later, a matchup may finally challenge that Rose Bowl’s TV ratings record.

No. 1 Notre Dame, so popular it can stay independent and negotiate its own television contract, is competing for its first championship since the 1988 season. Notre Dame’s opponent, No. 2 Alabama, is a big name in its own right, made bigger by two titles in the last three years and the Southeastern Conference’s run of six straight crowns.

“It sets up really remarkable possibilities,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president for college sports programming.

Just as fans and media break down position-by-position battles for the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide, a look at how this year’s matchup stacks up against the record-holders from 2006:

_ NAME RECOGNITION. Texas and USC are hardly slouches in the tradition and popularity departments, but Notre Dame is in its own category. Plus there’s the added intrigue of the Irish’s title drought.

“It definitely raises the bar of the hype and the buzz of this national championship compared to any of the other games I’ve had the good fortune to call,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said.

Even if much of the interest sprouts from fans rooting against one of the teams.

“Notre Dame is the Yankees, is the Celtics, the Lakers and so on, the Dallas Cowboys. They’re polarizing, which helps,” Magnus said. “Actually, both of them are right now because of the SEC factor, and Alabama has been the standard bearer for that.”

Herbstreit chuckled at the thought of some fans vowing not to watch because they detest both teams.

“Anybody who takes the time to make a comment like that clearly will be watching the game,” he said. “They’ll in fact watch the four hours of pregame we have before the game and be blogging and tweeting about how wrong everybody is on those shows.”

_ STAR POWER. Texas-USC sparkled far brighter here. The three Heisman finalists that season were from those two teams: Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart (who won the previous year) and running back Reggie Bush (who won this time, before later returning the trophy because of NCAA violations) and Longhorns quarterback Vince Young. All were skill position players believed at the time to have promising NFL futures.

Notre Dame’s Heisman finalist is a defensive guy, linebacker Manti Te’o. Alabama’s four first-team All-Americans are offensive linemen or defenders.

_ ANTICIPATION. Texas and USC were the undisputed top teams in college football _ the only undefeated squads in the country who led the rankings all season. Alabama has one loss, and while there has been almost no controversy as to whether the Tide deserves to play in the title game, the late-season rankings scramble that led to this game doesn’t carry quite the same buzz.

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