No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama
Mon., Jan. 7 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Miami, Fla. – Sun Life Stadium
This one certainly has the marquee value befitting college football’s Super Bowl.
Alabama (12-1) has put its name on 14 national championships, including two in the last three years. Notre Dame (12-0) is gunning to claim its 12th title, which would be its first since 1988.
If the Crimson Tide are able to become the first-ever BCS repeat national champ, you’ll have to go back more than 60 years to find a school that won three titles in a four year span, which was none other than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1946, 1947, 1949).
It truly is a heavyweight battle and both teams appropriately qualified for this massive clash because of their excellent defensive units.
Alabama ranks first nationally in total defense and rushing defense, second in scoring defense and sixth in passing defense.
Notre Dame has a similar résumé, ranking first in scoring defense, fourth in rushing defense, sixth in total defense and 21st in pass defense.
Both teams allow less than 11 points per game (Alabama 10.7, Notre Dame 10.3). We won’t spend any time quibbling about the difference in the opposition. Games are games and wins are wins. Both units are exceptional.
It’s on offense where we find distinct separation.
In its last game, Notre Dame kicked five field goals and scored only one touchdown in a nail-biting 22-13 victory over middle-of-the-Pac USC. Yes, the same USC that was quarterbacked by Max Wittek instead of Matt Barkley. Yes, the same USC that had a pair of Kiffins leading the underachieving offense (Lane) and defense (Monte) all season.
Alabama’s last game was quite different. It wasn’t flawless football, but when the chips were down, Bama simply bowled over Georgia. The Crimson Tide ran the football 51 times against the Bulldogs, with the majority of those carries coming when Georgia fully expected the same zone running play. Nonetheless, Alabama finished with a whopping 350 yards on the ground against a unit that reportedly features nine NFL caliber defenders.
The Crimson Tide’s ability to run between the tackles with the linemen routinely getting to the second level was amazing. Irish inside linebacker Manti Te’o and his cohorts will have their hands full, getting off blocks and trying to bring down Alabama’s one-two punch of warrior running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
We respect the job that the Irish have done against the run, allowing only two rushing touchdowns this season, but we ain’t talking Wake Forest here. Alabama has scored 35 rushing touchdowns and the Tide won’t be denied.
Notre Dame will be forced to stack the box to slow the Tide’s roll on the ground, but that’s dangerous business for a suspect secondary. At any moment, Alabama freshman wideout Amari Cooper can blow the top off your defense on the outside. Just ask Georgia.
The Irish are solid and balanced on offense, but not good enough to take advantage of Alabama’s few frailties.
Teams have been able to pass against the Tide, but that’s after establishing a running game. We don’t think the Irish will be able to do that and will end up one-dimensional. If that’s the case, we have little confidence that redshirt freshman Everett Golson will be able to a do a “Johnny Football” on the Tide.
Nick Saban’s defense has the size and strength to match up well with Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and the athleticism on the outside to contain Golson.
Irish fans will contend that the Tide looked vulnerable in the SEC title game and that they would have lost if Georgia could have gotten another snap off.
This is true, but that fact actually works against the Irish. The Tide know that they didn’t play their best game against the Bulldogs. They don’t need Saban to remind them of that … but he will and there will be lots of fine tuning going on in Tuscaloosa.
The Irish beat representatives from five BCS conferences en route to 12-0, but not anybody from THE BCS conference. Until now. They’ll meet their match and then some.
Opening point spread: Alabama by 9 1/2
The pick: Alabama 24-13
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