Whether you put stock in quarterbacks A.J. McCarron or Everett Golson, believe that head coaches Nick Saban or Brian Kelly have zero interest in manning NFL sidelines, that the stoutness of the Alabama defense will let the Tide roll, or that the luck (and skill) of the Irish will turn the BCS title game Notre Dame’s way, is immaterial.
What could become very material on Jan. 8 – the day after one of the storied program adds another championship chapter to its legacy – is that ESPN’s coverage of college football's ultimate game may become the top telecast in cable history.
(For the record, ESPN’s average of the four other BCS games edged up 1% to a 7.5 metered market rating from 7.4 in 2012, heading into Monday night's matchup from Miami.)
Given the heritage of the combatants -- Alabama has nine national titles to its credit during the poll era, one more than its adversary -- the Jan. 7 telecast may surpass the Auburn-Oregon BCS title tilt that tackled 27.4 million viewers on Jan. 10, 2011, as long as it's relatively competitive. The Tigers’ 22-19 triumph over the Ducks was sealed in the final seconds.
Last year, the SEC West rematch in which Bama easily tamed the LSU Fighting Tigers, 21-0, "holding" the 2012 BCS title game to 24.2 million viewers, which nonetheless stands as the second-biggest audience in cable history.
Considering the schools’ blue blood backgrounds, a tight contest -- no extra point in that Alabama is a 9.5-point favorite over Touchdown Jesus' favorite team -- should overcome whatever level of SEC fatigue is in play as Saban's squad chases the conference's seventh consecutive title, vaulting ESPN’s telecast into the Nielsen record books in the process.
Update: Unfortunately, this game turned out to be a mismatch, with Bama leaving no doubt about who was boss in the first quarter. It takes a certain level of fanaticism -- or having nothing else to do -- to stick with a 42-14 blowout, so any hope for a Nielsen record likely got rolled by the Tide's dominance.