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Alabama's defense still dominant without departed stars, still firing away at doubters

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    Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, left, defensive back Robert Lester, center, and linebacker Nico Johnson, right wait to enter the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort and Spa for a media availability, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alabama is scheduled to play Notre Dame on Monday, Jan. 7, in the BCS national championship NCAA college football game. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (The Associated Press)

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    Alabama defensive back Dee Milliner answers questions during a media availability, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alabama is scheduled to play Notre Dame on Monday in the BCS championship NCAA college football game. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (The Associated Press)

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart likes his current group of players, and not just because of their stats.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide might not be quite as dominant as last year's star-studded lineup and the secondary in particular has been more vulnerable.

Yet Smart says this unit has been one of his favorites to coach, and the players were motivated by more modest outside expectations.

The Tide still leads the nation in fewest total and rushing yards allowed going into Monday night's BCS championship game against No. 1 Notre Dame.

Fighting Irish running back Theo Riddick says the offense feels like it "can exploit their secondary" with playmakers on the outside.

Alabama All-America cornerback Dee Milliner takes that as a challenge.

He's hoping "we'll make plays and change their mind."