Love Notre Dame or hate it for its holier-than-thou reputation, having the Fighting Irish in the BCS title game is good for college football.

If there was any doubt, it was dispelled Saturday night in Miami, where a reported crowd of 20,000 attended a raucous beach pep rally for the Fighting Irish and where former Irish coach Lou Holtz declared: "College football is better when Notre Dame is on top."

Whether the No. 1 Fighting Irish (12-0) stay there will be decided Monday night when they face No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in one of the most anticipated games in college football history.

Many expect it to set a BCS title game television ratings record, besting the 22 percent of TVs that were tuned into the classic 2006 shootout between Texas and USC. That perfect-storm game matched teams from different parts of the country with national profiles, dueling Heisman Trophy candidates and electric star-driven offenses that lived up to the hype. Texas won 41-38 on a late drive directed by quarterback Vince Young.

Don't expect defense-first Notre Dame and Alabama to deliver similar fireworks. But eyes will be glued nonetheless.

"Notre Dame is such a polarizing team. No matter where you grew up, you either loved Notre Dame or you just couldn't stand Notre Dame," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said last week in a teleconference. "Any time you put those letters 'ND' in the national title game, I think the level of interest obviously is going to go up."

Alabama and monotone coach Nick Saban are similarly detested, especially among the 13 other fan bases of the football-mad SEC -- but not to the level of Notre Dame.

Herbstreit compares the draw of the Fighting Irish to that of Tiger Woods.

"I could care less about golf on a weekly basis. But if Tiger Woods accidentally stumbles into a Sunday, I'm that guy who watches," Herbstreit said. "I think if you're a fringe college football fan and you have Notre Dame and Alabama playing on a Monday night, even if you despise both of these teams, you're going to be tuned in."

- Kevin Dunleavy