Alabama-Notre Dame: some storylines

14 Comments

If you were a Hollywood script writer looking to pitch a movie based on a college football championship being played in a land far, far away, it would be hard to come up with a better pair of protagonists than Alabama and Notre Dame.

For any director, it’s a cinematic smörgåsbord replete with plotlines as far as the stomach can see.  The North vs. the South on a gridiron battlefield.  Two of the winningest programs in FBS history, with the Irish tied for second all-time with Texas and the Tide seventh.  Mystique for miles, from Knute to Bear, from the Gipper to Broadway Joe before the bright lights and big city, from 14 claimed national championships for the Tuscaloosa school to 11 claimed by the one from South Bend.

And, it just so happens, the two best teams after the dust had settled and the curtain had fallen on the 2012 regular season.

Simply put, it’s already the most highly anticipated title game of the BCS era… and we’re still weeks away from the Jan. 7 showdown in Miami.  Suffice to say, myriad words will be dumped onto a computer screen to feed the hype machine over the next five weeks, with storylines far surpassing even the schools’ healthy win totals.  Here are but a few of those that may or may not have an impact on which team hoists the crystal into the South Beach sky at game’s end.

Are you experienced?
In a lot of ways, Alabama and Notre Dame are as evenly matched as any two teams that have faced each other on this stage recently.  One area where the Tide has a decided and lopsided advantage?  Big-game experience.  The No. 2 Tide (12-1) will be gunning for an unprecedented third BCS title in four years while the Irish’s biggest game under Brian Kelly prior to this year was, what, the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State after last season?  From handling the weeks-long layoff to dealing with the media circus to a 60-minute game of this magnitude and carrying such immense ramifications, Nick Saban has been there, done that while Kelly is just getting there and has never done that.

Waking the slumbering echoes
In the 14-year history of the BCS, No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) has appeared in just three of the marquee bowl games, with the last coming after the 2006 regular season.  Their national championship drought stretches back even further; the last time the Irish finished a season on top, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, a gallon of gas would set you back $1.08 and Lou Holtz was shtomping acrosh the Irish shidelines.  Since then, “Flounder Like an Irrelevant Program Today” has marked the once-proud program’s trudge through more than two decades of mediocrity.  Following a 16-win run to end the last three years of the Charlie Weis era, though, the tide, so to speak, began to turn for the Irish.  In the two years after Kelly was hired in December of 2009, the Irish posted back-to-back eight-win seasons.  In the third year under Kelly — the same year four other Irish coaches won their first/only national championships at the school, incidentally — the Irish have made a resounding move back onto the national stage.  And relevance in the way that matters most.

Exorcising historical ghosts
While they’ve met but a handful of times through the years, Notre Dame has had Alabama’s number when they have taken the field.  In six meetings, the Irish own a decided 5-1 advantage.  Included in that total?  A perfect 4-0 record against Tide teams coached by the legendary Bear Bryant.  The two teams first met in 1973, with the last coming in 1987.  The first two meetings came in the Sugar and Orange Bowls in back-to-back years, with the Irish winning both games by a combined three points over Tide teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at the time.  Alabama’s only win came during the 1986 regular season, a 28-10 decision in Birmingham.  Of course, the last time the two teams met with this much on the line, Saban was a graduate assistant at his alma mater Kent State while Kelly had yet to enter high school, so the historical angle will be gummed to death in the coming weeks due to lack of teeth.

Chasing the Bear
More than three decades after his death, there’s still nothing that epitomizes and encapsulates the Alabama football program more than Paul William Bryant.  In his 25 years as the Tide’s head coach, the Bear won a school-record 232 games and staked his claim to five* national titles.  While Saban can inch up on but never truly surpass Coach Bryant in the hearts and minds of Tuscaloosans, he can take a step closer to the coaching immortal’s accomplishments; with a win over Notre Dame, Saban would have four national championships on his résumé — one at LSU, three in the Bear’s den.

(*I don’t acknowledge 1973, much like the coaches didn’t acknowledge the postseason)

Record eyeballs glued to boob tube?
The highest-rated game in BCS history was the USC-Texas Rose Bowl affair following the 2005 season, which drew a 21.7 Nielsen rating.  Notre Dame drew a 10.3 rating for its “meaningless” regular season game against USC this year that was roughly half of that record, and equal to the 2012 SEC title game.  Alabama plus Notre Dame plus five weeks of hype?  Records will be shattered.

AP tiebreaker
Depending on which way the polling winds blow, and if it’s favorable in their direction, Alabama claims (I think) 14 national championships.  Notre Dame claims 11, with both teams using various polls to dignify their historical national championship status.  The one certainty in all of the title claiming?  There are two teams that have each won a record eight Associated Press titles — Alabama and Notre Dame, of course.  Jan. 7 in Miami, as it turns out, will turn into a tiebreaker for the ages that no one ever anticipated.

Degenerates speak
In the week leading up to the SEC championship game, Alabama had been listed as a 9.5 favorite over Notre Dame should the two teams ultimately meet in the BCS title game.  With the game officially set?  The odds range from 8.5 to 10, depending on the book.  Notre Dame may be undefeated, but they’ll go into the title game as decided underdogs in the eyes of both the sports books in general and the betting/viewing public in particular.

James Franklin: I am not Keegan-Michael Key

Getty Images
3 Comments

College GameDay was in Times Square on Saturday and decided to do the most New York thing possible: respond to a Mike Francessa rant.

Francessa ripped Penn State head coach James Franklin, calling him a “horses’s ass,” for trying to prevent a field goal to preserve the Nittany Lions’ 56-0 blanking of Georgia State last week. To respond, ESPN didn’t talk to Franklin, but instead asked comedian (and Penn State graduate) Keegan-Michael Key to speak for him.

This is not the first time Key has leverages his resemblance to Franklin for comedic purposes.

Nevertheless, Franklin addressed the bit to close his post-game press conference following Penn State’s 21-19 escape of Iowa in an answer that toed the line between seriousness and wry sarcasm.

Boston College loses WR Charlie Callinan for ‘an extended period of time’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Boston College will be without wide receiver Charlie Callinan for “an extended period of time,” the program announced just before the Eagles’ date with Clemson on Saturday.

Callinan suffered a foot injury. The nature of the injury was not disclosed.

A senior from Westfield, N.J., Callinan was one of the most experienced players on the roster with 41 career appearances and 31 starts under his belt. He is the third BC player with at least 30 career games to be lost for an extended period of time this season.

Callinan posted the best game of his career in what may go down as the final game of his career, hauling in seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-20 loss to Notre Dame a week ago.

Without him in the lineup, BC passed for 141 yards on 34 attempts in a 34-7 loss to the second-ranked Tigers.

Don’t let Saquon Barkley distract you from the season Stanford’s Bryce Love is having

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saquon Barkley is incredible. The Penn State running back is every bit a deserving Heisman front-runner, what with his 66 carries for 518 yards and four touchdowns, his team-leading 23 grabs for 335 yards and two touchdowns, and his 22.86-yard average on seven kickoff returns. This isn’t a criticism of him.

But I want to introduce an idea to you right now, and I want you to take a deep breath first: it’s possible Barkley is not having the best season of any running back in college football. At least not to this point.

Take a look at Stanford’s Bryce Love‘s first four games:

  • 13 carries for 180 yards and a touchdown in a 62-7 destruction of Rice
  • 17 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown in a 42-24 loss to USC
  • 13 carries for 184 yards and two scores in a 20-17 loss to San Diego State
  • 30 carries for 263 yards and a touchdown in last night’s 58-34 defeat of UCLA

Add it all up and you get 73 carries for 787 yards and five touchdowns, which not only means Love leads the nation in rushing yards per game — he leads the nation in rushing while averaging 10.78 yards per carry.

Love not only leads the nation in total rushing yards, he not only leads the nation in rushing yards per game, he leads the nation in yards per carry for all players anywhere in the neighborhood his carry total. Four players rank ahead of Love in yards per carry thus far, and those three players have toted the rock 76 times — combined.

The next closest player on the yards per carry rankings with at least 70 rushes is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who averages 7.87 yards on 91 carries. That’s an incredible number, and still 27 percent lower than Love’s average.

Stanford may not win enough for Love to join Barkley in the Heisman conversation, but right now it appears the two running back spots on every All-American team are locked up until further notice.

Georgia, TCU replace Ohio State and OK State in top 10 of latest AP poll

Getty Images
8 Comments

Big wins over ranked opponents pushed Georgia and TCU into the top 10 of the latest Associated Press poll, released Sunday. Voters were apparently more impressed with Georgia’s 31-3 whipping of then-No. 17 Mississippi State in Athens than they were of TCU’s 44-31 upset of then-No. 6 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Georgia moved up four spots while TCU jumped seven, but the Bulldogs remained ahead of the Frogs by two spots, No. 7 to No. 9.

Elsewhere, Washington creeped forward one spot, Washington State and Louisville nudged forward two, and South Florida, San Diego State and Utah leaped three spots forward. Notre Dame and West Virginia returned to this week’s poll at Nos. 22 and 23, replacing upset losers Florida State and Oregon. Unlike the Coaches’ Poll, voters remembered that Mississippi State hammered LSU by 30 points just eight days ago, keeping the Bulldogs one spot ahead of the Bayou Bengals.

The full poll:

  1. Alabama — 1,515 total points (52 first-place votes)
  2. Clemson — 1,458 (2)
  3. Oklahoma — 1,397 (1)
  4. Penn State — 1,304
  5. USC — 1,247
  6. Washington — 1,188
  7. Georgia — 1,136
  8. Michigan — 1,088
  9. TCU — 1,028
  10. Wisconsin — 1,023
  11. Ohio State — 1,016
  12. Virginia Tech — 828
  13. Auburn — 701
  14. Miami — 693
  15. Oklahoma State — 665
  16. Washington State — 551
  17. Louisville — 502
  18. South Florida — 406
  19. San Diego State — 365
  20. Utah — 356
  21. Florida — 342
  22. Notre Dame — 246
  23. West Virginia — 212
  24. Mississippi State — 148
  25. LSU — 92