There are few programs in the history of college football that have experienced as much success as Alabama and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are fourth all-time with 865 wins and no team in the nation can claim more Heisman trophies than the Irish's seven. The Crimson Tide are ninth all-time with 826 wins and have won two of the last three BCS National Championships. Officially, the Tide lead all FBS programs with 14 national titles and Notre Dame is tied for second with 11. 'Bama claims 24 NCAA Hall of Famers while the Irish boast 50.
Arguably, the two most powerful brands in college football history will be on the field deciding a championship on Monday, Jan. 7. Dedicated fans, legendary coaches, historic moments and most importantly, transcendent players have made these two football Goliaths what they are today.
So which program has had the better history of great athletes? To be fair, the evolution of the athlete makes it extremely difficult to compare players who passed beneath Touchdown Jesus or through the Capstone 60 years apart. Players today are bigger, faster, stronger and more prepared for elite competition than ever before. How could you ever compare Barrett Jones to Aaron Taylor to John Hannah? What about Manti Te'o, Cornelius Bennett or Jim Lynch? How about George Gipp or Trent Richardson?
It's virtually impossible, but Athlon Sports has given it the ol' college try:
Alabama's Best: Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, AJ McCarron
Notre Dame's Best: Johnny Lujack, Joe Montana, Paul Hornung
With AJ McCarron pushing for his second national championship ring, Alabama has a strong trio at the most important position on the field. The Tide also has title winners in Jay Barker, Greg McElroy and Pat Trammell. 'Bama also claims Green Bay Packers hero Bart Starr. However, Notre Dame gets the nod under center with a deep and talented history at the quarterback position. Lujack, Hornung, John Huarte and Angelo Bartelli all won Heisman trophies and many believe Montana is the best to ever play the position. Throw in Terry Hanratty, Joe Theismann, Rick Mirer, Brady Quinn and Tony Rice, and the Irish have the clear edge under center.
Edge: Notre Dame
Alabama's Best: Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram, Bobby Humphrey
Notre Dame's Best: George Gipp, Johnny Lattner, Jerome Bettis
If the game was being played 50 years ago, Notre Dame's best would likely trump 'Bama. However, the modern athlete gives the Crimson Tide the edge at running back. Richardson is one of the most physically gifted players to ever carry a football on any campus. Ingram won Alabama's lone Heisman Trophy, and old-school names like Humphrey, Johnny Musso, Shaun Alexander and Johnny Mack Brown give the Tide plenty of history of their own. The Gipper is the gold standard in South Bend for all players regardless of position, as Gipp excelled at much more than just running. Bettis is arguably the most gifted Irish runner, but is the only modern "all-time" tailback at Notre Dame. Lattner, Gipp, Elmer Layden and Emil Sitko played during a different era and even the best of the rest — Vagas Ferguson, Autry Denson, Reggie Brooks — are nearly 20 years removed from action. This position battle is extremely close but Alabama gets the slight edge based on raw athletic ability.
Alabama's Best: Don Hutson, Julio Jones, David Palmer
Notre Dame's Best: Tim Brown, Rocket Ismail, Michael Floyd
'Bama's best can hang with anyone's top three, especially considering what Hutson and Jones have gone on to do in the NFL. But the position isn't extremely deep with All-Americans. Notre Dame, however, has a deep history of elite pass catchers. Brown won the program's seventh Heisman Trophy, Ismail was virtually unstoppable in the open field, and Floyd was as productive as any wideout at any school. But Jim Seymour, Jeff Samardzija, Golden Tate, Wayne Milner and Derrick Mays, to name a few, give the Irish the nod over the Crimson Tide. Although, it would have been interesting to see what type of legacy Tyrone Prothro would have left at Alabama had he stayed healthy.
Edge: Notre Dame
Alabama's Best: Ozzie Newsome, Howard Cross, Rod Rutledge
Notre Dame's Best: Ken McAfee, Dave Casper, Kyle Rudolph
This one isn't even close despite Newsome being the best overall player at this position on either team. McAfee and Casper are two of the greatest college tight ends in history, while Rudolph's freakish athletic ability made him a special player. Toss in Jim Mutscheller, John Carlson, Tyler Eifert, Irv Smith and Mark Bavaro and the Irish can boast one of the best tight end traditions in the nation.
Edge: Notre Dame
Alabama's Best: John Hannah, Chris Samuels, Barrett Jones
Notre Dame's Best: George Connor, Bill Fischer, Aaron Taylor
Much like the tight end position, this battle isn't really close. This time, however, it's Alabama that has the distinct advantage. The fact that Dwight Stephenson, Andre Smith, Antoine Caldwell, Billy Neighbors and Chance Warmack aren't one of the best three linemen to play at a school indicates just how elite 'Bama's blocking heritage has been. Strangely enough — and relatively speaking, of course — the Irish have little history of elite offensive linemen. Mirko Jurkovic, Andy Heck and John Scully might not even stack up with even the Mike Johnsons and D.J. Flukers of the Crimson Tide world.
Alabama's Best: Leroy Cook, Marty Lyons, Terrance Cody
Notre Dame's Best: Ross Browner, Leon Hart, Justin Tuck
Surprisingly, Alabama's tradition and history along the defensive line is similar to that of Notre Dame's offensive line in that a small number of D-Liners are named amongst the program's all-time best. For example, it is likely that Jesse Williams is one of the top 10 defensive linemen in Capstone history. Lyons and Cook were truly great, and Cody was a monster. Beyond them it is hard to find comparable names. Eric Curry, John Copeland, Marcell Dareus and Mike Pitts were all great players but not Heisman Trophy-type talents. Browner was one of the game's greatest at his position, Hart is still one of just two linemen to win the Heisman Trophy, and Tuck is a physical freak. Toss in Bryant Young, Chris Zorich, Alan Page and Bob Dove, and the Irish get the nod along the defensive frontline. Walt Patulski, Frank Stams, Steve Niehaus and Louis Nix III could also be mentioned among the ND's best — and Stephon Tuitt may only need one more season to prove he belongs as well.
Edge: Notre Dame
Alabama's Best: Derrick Thomas, Cornelius Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan
Notre Dame's Best: Manti Te'o, Jim Lynch, Bob Crable
Alabama's tradition of churning out elite linebackers is downright absurd. DeMeco Ryans, C.J. Mosley, Keith McCants and Dwayne Rudd aren't even in the top 10. Woodrow Lowe, Dont'a Hightower, Rolando McClain and Courtney Upshaw aren't in the top three. Along with offensive line, this position is the strongest historically of the Crimson Tide program. Considering the history at this position, it's no wonder Nick Saban has made a killing recruiting elite tackling prospects. Te'o speaks for himself as one of the better all-around college athletes to ever the play the game. Lynch and Crable are elite in their own right as well. And Bob Golic, Jerry Groom, Michael Stonebreaker and Nick Buoniconti are good players but Notre Dame can't match the rich heritage of Alabama's linebackers.
Alabama's Best: Antonio Langham, Javier Arenas, Jeremiah Castille
Notre Dame's Best: Todd Lyght, Bobby Taylor, Luther Bradley
Langham won the Thorpe Award and led his team to a national title, while Arenas impacted the game in so many different ways. That said, Dee Milliner might be the most complete and talented corner to ever play at Alabama. Dre Kirkpatrick, Kareem Jackson and Don McNeal add quality depth to the cover corner position as well. Notre Dame has had some quality players at cornerback over the years but none are considered amongst the school's all-time greatest players.
Alabama's Best: Mark Barron, Tommy Wilcox, George Teague
Notre Dame's Best: Mike Townsend, Tom Zbikowski, Dave Duerson
There was talk around the SEC that Barron was the best player in the conference last season — in a year that had nine first-round picks from the SEC. Wilcox is widely regarded as the only other truly great Alabama safety, while others like George Teague and Rashad Johnson were big winners. However, Notre Dame's recent run at safety — Zbikowski and Harrison Smith — give the Irish a very slight edge at the backend of the defense. Dick Lynch and Dave Duerson add quality depth to a position that has been comparatively thin for both programs. Although, both programs have produced some NFL stars in the last few seasons.
Edge: Notre Dame
Notre Dame's John Carney vs. Alabama's Leigh Tiffin
Both names dominate their respective record books. Alabama has had a slightly better run of kickers overall (Phillip Doyle, Michael Proctor) than Notre Dame, but Carney went on to become one of the NFL's best for more than two decades.
Edge: Notre Dame
Alabama's Best: Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, Frank Thomas
Notre Dame's Best: Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian
This is one of the more interesting debates in a historical perspective for both teams. It's tough to argue that Bryant isn't the game's greatest general, however, nearly one third of his 323 wins (91) came during his 13-year coaching tenure prior to getting to Tuscaloosa. And the Notre Dame coaching history has been slightly deeper and more balanced as seven different men won a national title at Notre Dame, while only five did so at Alabama. How do Lou Holtz, Dan Devine and Elmer Layden compare to Wallace Wade and Gene Stallings? Brian Kelly has won titles on every level of his coaching career and has a chance to defeat Saban head-to-head and make it eight coaches to win titles for the Irish. That said, The Bear is the trump card. But this is about as dead even a position battle for these two historic programs. One could also argue that these are the two best collections of head coaches in the nation — which should come as no shock considering these are two of college football's most prestigious programs.