- Associated Press - Saturday, December 1, 2012

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.

Sunday’s selection show is just a formality.

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, 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.

A return to glory for Brian Kelly’s Fighting Irish or a dynasty for Saban’s Tide? Seven straight BCS titles for the SEC and 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 rating.

Alabama’s BCS title win against 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.

Earlier Saturday, No. 12 Oklahoma won 24-17 at TCU to finish the regular season 10-2, with at least a share of the Big 12 title. The Sooners should find themselves in the BCS one way or another.

On Friday night, Stanford grabbed a spot in the Rose Bowl and the chances for a BCS buster dwindled.

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 get into the BCS, too _ but it will be tough.

Kent State’s loss could be the Big 12’s gain. If neither of the MAC teams nor Boise State, which beat Nevada 27-21 to earn a share of the Mountain West title, earns that so-called BCS buster bid, the Sooners (10-2) look like a logical choice to be selected, even if No. 7 Kansas State locks up the Big 12’s BCS bid Saturday night.

The Wildcats needed only to beat No. 23 Texas at home to earn a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. A loss would send Oklahoma to the Fiesta Bowl and have Kansas State hoping for an at-large bid only a few weeks after being No. 1 in the BCS standings.

No. 15 Clemson (10-2) could also be in the mix for an at-large bid.

No. 8 Stanford locked up the Rose Bowl bid by beating UCLA 27-24 on Friday night and will play the winner of Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game between Wisconsin and No. 14 Nebraska.

No. 13 Florida State and Georgia Tech were playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game later for a bid to the Orange Bowl.

Louisville earned the Big East’s BCS bid by beating Rutgers on Thursday night, 20-17.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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