NEW ORLEANS -- Isn't this what everybody wanted? No. 1 Miami (11-0) against No. 2 Alabama (12-0). The team of the '80s against the team of the '70s. The Crimson Tide's defense ranked No. 1, the Hurricanes' defense ranked No. 1 and a half. Miami, with the nation's longest winning streak at 29 games, vs. Alabama, with the second longest at 22.
It may not be the "Game of the Decade," but tonight's USF&G; Sugar Bowl between Miami and Alabama is at least the biggest postseason college football game since No. 2 Miami beat No. 1 Oklahoma, 20-14, in the 1988 Orange Bowl.
"The coalition worked," Miami coach Dennis Erickson said of the bowl selection committee's first-year effort to match the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams. "No playoffs, just one game between the two best teams for all the marbles. We're excited. Alabama is excited. The country is waiting. Oh, is this special or what?"
"I've been in three Super Bowls as an assistant coach. When I was at Texas A&M; and we played Alabama and Bear Bryant, that was a pretty big game, too," Alabama coach Gene Stallings said. "Here at Alabama, Auburn is a big game. Tennessee is a big game, but for me personally this one has the most at stake."
But there's more to this game than winning a national championship. It's a chance for Alabama to add to its storied 100-year history, one that includes the glorious 25-year coaching career of Bear Bryant. Bryant's shadow looms large in the state, and many longtime 'Bama fans detect some of Bryant's mannerisms in Stallings, a former Bryant assistant.
This game is Miami's chance to add to its recent domination of college football. The Hurricanes can become the first team to win back-to-back national championships since Alabama in 1978 and and the first since Oklahoma in 1955 and 1957 to win them with perfect records.
The Hurricanes also can win an unprecedented fifth national title in 10 years.
"We want our place in history, above the great Notre Dame and Oklahoma teams," said Micheal Barrow, Miami's starting middle
"They were great, and they gave us something to shoot for, but we want to become the standard."
All that stands between Miami and history is an Alabama team that was cut from the Bryant mold. Great defense. Conservative offense. Sound kicking game.
The Hurricanes are a team with a little different approach. Wide-open, pass-oriented offense. Great defense. Sound kicking game.
But here's the big difference. Alabama has good team speed. Miami has great team speed. Oddsmakers apparently believe the speed is worth an eight-point difference in Miami's favor.
"Speed gives them the ability to make the big plays, and that has put them over the edge against teams like Penn State and Syracuse," said Jay Barker, Alabama's quarterback. "We're going to have to find a way to neutralize that speed."
Besides speed, Barker and Miami quarterback Gino Torretta are two other keys in the game.
Alabama, paced by running back Derrick Lassic's 905 yards, is averaging 208.9 yards rushing. But Barker has been inconsistent this season, completing 132 of 243 passes for 1,614 yards. He has thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (seven).
Alabama is expected to run straight ahead because other teams have failed to outrun Miami linebackers Barrow, Jessie Armstead and Darrin Smith on the perimeter.
Miami, if it needs to, will counter will eight players on the line of scrimmage.
"We are going to test him [Barker]," Miami cornerback Ryan McNeil said. "We don't think he can beat us. Our first priority is to shut down the run, and force him into passes he doesn't want to make. We need to confuse him and force him into mistakes."
Barker said: "They've got a great defense, but we're not going to change our philosophy now. I hope they don't think I can pass at all. That will be to my advantage. I expect to prove them wrong."
It's no secret that Miami lives by the pass, but traditionally the Hurricanes have had a solid running attack. Not this year. The Hurricanes are averaging 120.5 yards rushing. Torretta, despite winning the Heisman Trophy and passing for 3,060 yards, has been inconsistent this year, especially in big games.
But his receivers, Coleman Bell, Horace Copeland and Lamar Thomas, are as good as any in the country.
That leaves Alabama -- which has given up an average of 194.2 yards of total offense -- with basically two options: play more nickel defense or attack a suspect offensive line to try to pressure Torretta.
The Crimson Tide certainly has the weapons in defensive ends )) Eric Curry and John Copeland, two probable NFL first-round draft picks, who have combined for 21 sacks.
It will be an interesting matchup because Miami is expected to go with its three- to five-step drop-back package and use more of the shotgun formation the Hurricanes started using in midseason.
Miami also has option patterns, in which receivers run routes depending on the alignment of the secondary. Option routes are common in a run-and-shoot offense. Miami runs pro-style and one-back offensive sets.
"If we don't get to him, it will be over as soon as it starts," Copeland said. "We've got to get in his face. We'll respect their running game, but their bread and butter is passing. I think we can get to him."
Copeland's statements are just a few of the brash words spoken by both teams this week. Basically, the only participants who have not gotten into the war of words have been Stallings and Erickson.
After a news conference yesterday, Erickson said he was moving his team to get away from distractions in New Orleans.
Stallings said he was keeping his team in town, and it was expected to meet last night to watch the new movie, "A Few Good Men."
It is believed the winner will become national champion when the polls are published tomorrow, but the title is not guaranteed. In the event the game ends in a tie, the polls will create suspense for a national champion because there is no tie-breaker procedure.
The Sugar Bowl
Alabama (12-0) vs. Miami (11-0) Tonight, 8:30, Chs. 13, 7, Miami favored by 8 What Miami must do to win * Rush for nearly 100 yards
Control Alabama defensive ends Eric Curry and John Copeland
* Minimize turnovers, especially inside Hurricanes territory
* Control Alabama's inside running game
* Force Crimson Tide quarterback Jay Barker into predictable situations
What Alabama must do to win * Establish running game
Stop Miami on first down
* Run at least six to seven plays on every possession
* Keep Miami receivers underneath the zone secondary coverage
* Pressure quarterback Gino Torretta
* Get solid performance from kicking game
A day at the bowls
Hall of Fame: Boston College (8-2-1) vs. Tennessee (8-3), 11 a.m.
TV: ESPN Cotton: Texas A&M; (12-0) vs. Notre Dame (9-1-1), 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 2, 4. Radio: WBAL (1090 AM) Citrus: Ohio State (8-2-1) vs. Georgia (9-2), 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 7 Blockbuster: Penn State (7-4) vs. Stanford (9-3), 1:30 p.m. TV: Chs. 11, 9 Fiesta: Syracuse (9-2) vs. Colorado (9-1-1), 4:30 p.m. TV: Chs. 2, 4. Radio: WBAL (1090 AM) Rose: Michigan (8-0-3) vs. Washington (9-2), 4:45 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 7 Orange: Nebraska (9-2) vs. Florida State (10-1), 8 p.m. TV: Chs. 2, 4 Sugar: Alabama (12-0) vs. Miami (11-0), 8:30 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 7. Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)
Teams: No. 2 Alabama (12-0) vs. No. 1 Miami (11-0)
When: Today, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
TV: Channels 13, 7
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)
Coaches: Alabama, Gene Stallings; Miami, Dennis Erickson
Alabama's key players: The nation's top defense (allowing 194.2 yards per game; 55 yards per game rushing) is led by DE Eric Curry, and CBs Antonio Langham and George Teague (six interceptions each). The Crimson Tide has forced 15 fumbles and 22 interceptions. QB Jay Barker (132 of 243 passes for 1,614 yards, seven TDs) leads the offense, along with RB Derrick Lassic (905 yards, 10 TDs) and FL David Palmer (30 receptions for 438 yards).
Miami's key players: Heisman-winning QB Gino Torretta (228 of 402 passes for 3,060 yards, 19 TDs) has four receivers with 40 or more receptions: Horace Copeland (47 catches for 769 yards), Lamar Thomas (47 catches for 701 yards, 10 TDs), Kevin Williams (40 receptions for 457 yards) and TE Coleman Bell (43 receptions for 634 yards). FB Donnell Bennett leads the ground game with 421 yards and six TDs.
Alabama's season 25 Vanderbilt 8 17 Southern Miss. 10 38 at Arkansas 11 13 Louisiana Tech 0 48 S. Carolina 7 37 at Tulane 0 17 at Tennessee 10 31 Mississippi 10
31 at LSU 11 30 at Mississippi St. 21 17 Auburn 0 28 Florida 21
24 at Iowa 7 38 Florida A&M; 0 8 Arizona 7 19 Florida St. 16 17 at Penn St. 14 45 TCU 10 43 at Virginia Tech 23 35 West Virginia 23 48 Temple 0 16 at Syracuse 10 63 at San Diego St. 17
For the defense . . .
Defensive statistics for Sugar Bowl opponents Alabama and Miami (averages are per game):
Rushing defense ... .Car Yds Avg
Ala. 395 660 55.0
Miami 406 1118 101.6
Passing defense ... .Att Cp Yds TDs
Ala. 330 164 1670 6
Miami 358 173 1861 10
Total defense ... Plays Yds Avg
Ala. 725 2330 194.2
Miami 764 2979 270.8
Scoring defense ... ..G Pts Avg
Ala. 12 109 9.1
Miami 11 127 11.5
On the offensive . . .
Offensive statistics for Sugar Bowl opponents Alabama and Miami (all averages are per game):
Rushing offense ... ...Car Yds Avg
Alabama 588 2507 208.9
Miami 381 1325 120.5
Passing offense ... .Att Cp Yds Avg
Ala. 271 145 1847 153.9
Miami 457 259 3476 316.0
Total offense ... Plays Yds Avg
Ala. 859 4354 362.8
Miami 838 4801 436.4
Scoring offense ... ..G Pts Avg
Ala. 12 332 27.7
Miami 11 356 32.4
No. 1 vs. No. 2
Meetings between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Associated Press college football poll. The No. 1 team has won 16 times, the No. 2 team has won eight times and two games ended in ties (in the case of Jan. 1 Bowl games, the year indicates the regular season):
Year Result Bowl (if applicable)
1943 No. 1 Notre Dame 35, No. 2 Michigan 12
1943 No. 1 Notre Dame 14, No. 2 Iowa Pre-Flight 13
1944 No. 1 Army 23, No. 2 Navy 7
1945 No. 1 Army 32, No. 2 Navy 13
1945 No. 1 Army 48, No. 2 Notre Dame 0
1946 No. 1 Army 0, No. 2 Notre Dame 0
1962 No. 1 Southern Cal 42, No. 2 Wisconsin 37 Rose
1963 No. 2 Texas 28, No. 1 Oklahoma 7
1963 No. 1 Texas 28, No. 2 Navy 6 Cotton
1966 No. 1 Notre Dame 10, No. 2 Michigan State 10
1968 No. 1 Purdue 37, No. 2 Notre Dame 22
1968 No. 1 Ohio State 27, No. 2 Southern Cal 16 Rose
1969 No. 1 Texas 15, No. 2 Arkansas 14
1971 No. 1 Nebraska 35, No. 2 Oklahoma 31
1971 No. 1 Nebraska 38, No. 2 Alabama 6 Orange
1978 No. 2 Alabama 14, No. 1 Penn State 7 Sugar
1981 No. 1 Southern Cal 28, No. 2 Oklahoma 24
1982 No. 2 Penn State 27, No. 1 Georgia 23 Sugar
1985 No. 1 Iowa 12, No. 2 Michigan 10
1986 No. 2 Miami 28, No. 1 Oklahoma 16
1986 No. 2 Penn State 14, No. 1 Miami 10 Fiesta
1987 No. 2 Oklahoma 17, No. 1 Nebraska 7
1987 No. 2 Miami 20, No. 1 Oklahoma 14 Orange
1988 No. 1 Notre Dame 27, No. 2 Southern Cal 10
1989 No. 1 Notre Dame 24, No. 2 Michigan 19
1991 No. 2 Miami 17, No. 1 Florida St. 16