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MORRISSEY: If Irish are to win, Golson must have spectacular game

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golsdid everything he needed do against Oklahoma. | AP

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson did everything he needed to do against Oklahoma. | AP

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Updated: January 7, 2013 6:51PM



After a month-plus-long barrage of references to the Golden Dome and “Roll Tide,’’ of odes to Knute Rockne and Bear Bryant, and of enough stories about Manti Te’o for readers to be on a first-name basis with his second-grade teacher, there’s only one thing left to say:

It’s probably time to play the game.

No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama face off in the BCS title game Monday night, and the buildup has been both ridiculous and ridiculously fun. If the game matches all the talk leading up to it … well, it can’t. The one way it might come close is if the halftime show turns out to be Jesus’ Second Coming, and only then if He belts out ND’s fight song. That’s how much energy, discussion, analysis and debate has been pumped into the dormant month of December and the early days of January.

This is what happens when two of the most storied programs meet for a national championship. It is Notre Dame’s idea of heaven: the Fighting Irish in their rightful place at the top of the heap, even if it has taken a few decades to get there. It is Alabama’s idea of business as usual.

On one side, you have the feral optimism of Notre Dame fans, and on the other, the oddsmakers’ double-digit, Debbie Downer view of the Irish’s chances. In the middle of it is a quarterback who turned 20 last week. As much as coach Brian Kelly has sought to play it down, the night is going to come down to Everett Golson.

If he plays a near-perfect game, Notre Dame can win. If he doesn’t play well, Notre Dame can expect a tropical depression inside Sun Life Stadium.

No pressure, kid.

Golson has offered hints of greatness. At Oklahoma in late October, he hit wide receiver Chris Brown for a 50-yard completion almost immediately after the Sooners scored a touchdown to tie the score in the fourth quarter. It changed the game and forced rowdy fans to use their inside voices.

“A big step for our quarterback,’’ Kelly said after Notre Dame’s victory that night.

“The progression I’ve made from Game 1 to now, the trust in my teammates and the trust that they have in me … makes me a lot more confident,’’ Golson said the other day.

The Irish went out of their way to shield Golson this season, especially early when he was having trouble holding on to the football. The team rarely made him available to reporters. Whatever the quarterback of one of the most prominent programs in the nation was thinking was a mystery.

There won’t be anywhere to hide Monday night. All eyes are going to be on a redshirt freshman against a nasty Alabama defense.

If Golson reverts to being the quarterback he was against Stanford, the one who fumbled four times (losing three) that day, we’re talking blowout. If he makes plays with his arm and his legs, we might be talking about changing his name to Everett Football by Tuesday morning.

“As they make their big plays, we’re going to have to make big plays to win this game, too,’’ he said. “I think we know that and the coaches know that. It’s all up to us to just really execute the plan.’’

Alabama has lots of NFL prospects on its roster, which helps explain the 500 points for them and the 139 for opponents this season. It also helps explain why the Crimson Tide is a 10-point favorite. Notre Dame hasn’t breezed past many opponents, with five of its victories being settled by seven points or fewer. The Irish have built their undefeated record on comebacks, overtime victories, Elmer’s Glue, goal-line stops, Te’o’s leadership at linebacker and luck. Oops, strike that last word. When half your fan base thinks God is on its side, you don’t call it Irish luck. You call it divine right.

This time, though, Notre Dame is going to need something more. Given that Golson likely will be wearing some combination of blue, green and gold, ND fans figure that’ll be more than enough. Sorry, no. He needs to play a big-boy game.

He needs to be spectacular. Alabama’s talent level demands that he have his best game of the season if the Irish are going to have a chance. It’s asking a lot, especially after more than a month of relentless hype. Is he up to all that pressure? The legions of doubters are waiting impatiently for an answer.



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