From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- On one side, a blossoming dynasty from the college football capital of the Deep South. On the other, the sport's most famous team, trying to reclaim its place among the elite.Notre Dame and Alabama bring star power and power football to the BCS championship.The matchup became official Sunday night when the final standings were released and, to no one's surprise, the Fighting Irish were first and the Crimson Tide was second.The one bit of drama on college football's selection Sunday was whether Northern Illinois could be this year's BCS buster. The Huskies got in, getting a spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida State, taking a bid away from Oklahoma and sparking heated debate about a system that never fails to tick off fans in some way.The other BCS matchups:-- Oregon and Kansas State will play in the Fiesta Bowl.-- Wisconsin and Stanford will meet in the Rose Bowl.-- Florida and Louisville are set for the Sugar Bowl.As for the main event in the penultimate Bowl Championship Series, there was little controversy about No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 2 Alabama in Miami."The tradition of Alabama and Notre Dame brings special attention to it, but we're just trying to the best team on Monday, Jan. 7," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday night. "All of that tradition, what's happened in the past, is not going to help us Jan. 7, but we do respect the traditions."The Irish clinched their spot a week ago in Los Angeles by completing a perfect season against rival Southern California.Alabama earned its spot Saturday, beating Georgia 32-28 in a thrilling Southeastern Conference title game.The program that coach Paul Bryant turned into an SEC behemoth in the 1960s and 70s, winning five national championships and sharing another during his tenure, is again dominating college football with a modern-day version of the Bear leading the way in Tuscaloosa, Ala.Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are on the verge of one of the great runs in history. Alabama would become the first team to repeat as champs since the BCS was implemented in 1998, and it would be the 11th time a team has won consecutive AP titles since the poll started in 1936. Alabama is already one of seven programs to repeat. The Tide has done it twice. Notre Dame is another.Alabama also won the 2009 BCS championship under Saban. The last team to win three major national titles in four seasons was Nebraska, which went back-to-back in 1994 and 95 and finished No. 1 in the final coaches' poll in 1997.In a world full of spread-the-field, hurry-up offenses, Alabama is a bastion of traditional football.The Tide put its no-frills muscle on display Saturday, mashing Georgia with 350 yards rushing.Eddie Lacy, listed at a conservative 220 pounds, went for 181 against the Bulldogs to up his season total to 1,182 with 17 touchdowns. Freshman T.J. Yeldon has run for 1,000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.But this is no 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Both backs average over 6 yards per carry, behind an offensive line anchored by All-American center Barrett Jones, who is nursing a foot injury.And quarterback AJ McCarron has thrown for 26 touchdowns with only three interceptions.The Tide has been more potent offensively this season than last to make up for a defense that has slipped, but only a bit. Alabama leads the nation in total defense (246 yards per game) and is second in points allowed (10.7 per game). Linebackers Adrian Hubbard, Nico Johnson, CJ Mosley and Trey Depriest average 242 pounds.When Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame three years ago, he looked at Alabama and the SEC, which has won six straight BCS titles, and decided the Irish needed to play like that.Kelly built his reputation and winning teams at previous stops on fast-paced spread offenses. In South Bend, Ind., he has put the fight back in the Irish, who have won eight AP national titles -- only Alabama has as many -- but none since 1988.Notre Dame has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the country (10) and is sixth overall in total defense (286 yards per game)."It's clear that the formation of any great program is going to be on its defense," Kelly said. "If you play great defense you've got a chance. For us to move Notre Dame back into national prominence we had to develop a defense."The face of the Irish isn't a strong-armed quarterback or speedy ball carrier. It's middle linebacker Manti Te'o, a 255-pound offense wrecker with a nose for the ball. The senior has seven interceptions and is a likely Heisman finalist.Te'o, along with 300-pound linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, have formed a red-zone wall for the Irish. Late goal-line stands highlighted victories against Stanford and USC."There's some pretty physical guys that have some great toughness and some great licks," Saban said in assessing Notre Dame.While nurturing redshirt freshman Everett Golson, Kelly has leaned on Notre Dame's running game, which averages 202 yards."This is just a good all-around football team with tremendous balance on offense and a very physical defense," Saban said.If Notre Dame, making its first appearance in a BCS championship, is going to break the SEC's strangle hold on the crystal ball trophy, the Irish will try to beat Bama at its own game.And Kelly will try to uphold a Notre Dame tradition, by winning a national title in his third season as coach. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won it all in Year 3 playing in the shadow of the Golden Dome.Notre Dame will try to become the first team since BYU in 1984 to start the season unranked and win a national title.Expect plenty of fans to be watching. With the popularity of both programs, the second-to-last BCS title game is expected to be the highest rated ever. Though it might be hard for many fans to choose. While there are plenty of fans tired of watching the SEC win championships, Notre Dame has always been the program people love to hate."I don't know if we picked up any more fans along the way," Kelly said.In two years, college football switches to a four-team playoff to determine its champion. No doubt fans of Florida (11-1), Oregon (11-1), Stanford (11-2) and Kansas State (11-1) wish they could push the start date up on that, but for the most part there isn't much griping about this championship matchup.Notre Dame is the only undefeated team that is eligible -- thanks to Ohio State's NCAA sanctions -- and Alabama is the champion of the league that has produced the last half-dozen national champs.Roll Tide or return to glory? To be determined in South Florida.
Highlights from the Boston Celtics 97-92 win at home against the Sacramento Kings
BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season.
Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games.
The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.
That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward.
“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it.
“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”
So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense.
Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.
“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything.
“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”
So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.
Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.
Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing.
But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.