By now, even casual college football fans know the names of guys like Manti Te’o, A.J. McCarron and Robert Lester, and the important role they’ll play in Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game.
But as we’ve seen so many times before, championships aren’t always won because of big contributions from star players, but instead unheralded role players stepping up for huge performances with a title on the line.
So who are the key, unheralded players heading into this year’s BCS title game?
Let’s take a look.
1. Barrett Jones, C, Alabama:
While it’s hard to argue that Jones is unheralded (he is a two-time All-SEC performer and Outland Trophy winner, after all) it isn’t much of an argument that the senior center is the most important player on Alabama’s offense. Not only does Jones make all the key calls at the line of scrimmage, but is also an emotional leader when things get tough.
That’s also why we’re concerned about Jones- and the left foot he injured in the SEC Championship Game- as we get set for Monday night. The Crimson Tide simply can’t afford to have him at less than 100 percent against the Irish.
Now to Jones’ credit he says he is nearly 100 percent healed…but at the same time “close doesn’t count” especially against a ferocious Notre Dame front-seven. Jones would’ve had his hands full with Louis Nix even if he were 100 percent, and it’s only going to be that much more interesting to see how he handles him and the rest of the Notre Dame pass rush with just one good foot.
2. Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame:
All season long the defensive backfield has been seen as the weak point of the Notre Dame defense, yet through 12 games, the Irish secondary more than held its own. Notre Dame finished the regular season ranked No. 20 nationally in pass defense, allowing just 194.4 yards per game.
However, despite those impressive regular season stats, you know Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier are still going to at least try to expose the Irish deep. That’s also why cornerback Bennett Jackson is so important. Jackson is the Irish’s best cover corner and was the only player besides Te’o to finish the regular season with more than two interceptions (Jackson had four).
Jackson will also likely have the added pressure of lining up against Alabama’s best wide receiver…
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama:
Honestly, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Cooper here, because in the end he could be the difference in this game. Alabama is going to have to throw deep to loosen up the stingy Irish front-seven and if there is one player to get behind that Irish secondary, it will be the 6’1 freshman from Miami.
Speaking of which, that is just about our only concern with Cooper coming into this game: Being a Miami native, will he be fully focused by the time kick-off comes with friends and family likely taking his focus away from football?
It’s a question that needs to be asked, but if Cooper can stay focused, he might very well be the most talented skill position player on either side of the field Monday night. Just ask Georgia, who Cooper torched for eight catches and the game-winning touchdown in this year’s SEC Championship Game.
4. Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama:
If there is one weakness of Alabama’s defense, it’s that unlike in years past, there is no truly great pass rusher. At times it has left the Crimson Tide vulnerable, like when Johnny Manziel ran over, around and through the Alabama defense back on November 10 (then again, who didn’t Johnny Manziel run over, around and through this year?).
Either way, the Crimson Tide will improve their chances of victory Monday night if they can simply get pressure on Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, and if anything that pressure seems like it will most likely come from Hubbard. The 6’6, 248 lb. linebacker led Alabama with six sacks this year.
As a matter of fact, just about the only thing that held Hubbard back from being a potential All-American this year was that at times he wasn’t always the most motivated player on the field. That shouldn’t be an issue in Monday’s championship game.
5. Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame:
Yes, it’s cliché to put Golson on a list like this, but there isn’t any one player who will be a bigger difference-maker in this game than Golson. If he plays well, they Irish have a good chance to win. If he doesn’t, they have virtually none.
And when looking at the numbers on Golson…
You know what? Screw it. Numbers don’t really tell the story on Golson, a kid who seemingly got better every single week this season, and should be even more improved with six extra weeks of practice in the lead-up to this game.
More importantly, Golson has the one intangible skill that has given Alabama trouble through the years, and that’s mobility from the quarterback position. It’s no coincidence that the last three quarterbacks to beat the Crimson Tide are Cam Newton, Jordan Jefferson and Johnny Manziel.
Golson could be the biggest key, to one of the biggest games in recent college football history.
For all his opinion, analysis and insight on college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.