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Alabama vs. Notre Dame
Monday, Jan 7, 8:30 pm
The dust has barely settled on an epic SEC Championship, but it’s already time to look a month ahead to the BCS Championship Game. It’s a surprise to few that Alabama is there. If you had suggested at the beginning of the season that Notre Dame would be there, though, you probably would have been checked into the loony bin. Yet here they are, playing for all the marbles. So, can they win? As I see it that question is going to come down to two major factors:
Watching the SEC Championship Game, one thing stood out above all else — Alabama can run like crazy. This isn’t fancy running, either — it is brutal, bashing, relentless running from not one but two elite running backs. The question I was focused on from halftime in that game was whether Notre Dame could handle that. Would they be able to control the run, or would Alabama be able to dominate on the ground? At first glance the news is very good — Notre Dame is fifth in the country in rushing yards allowed with just 92.4 per game. The closer you look at it, though, the worse that looks.
Heading into the BCS Championship Game, Alabama had the 20th-best run offense, producing 215 yards per game — an average they far exceeded with 350 yards against Georgia. Notre Dame faced just one run offense better than Alabama in the run rankings — sixth-ranked Navy. They held Navy to less than half of their season average, so you could argue that the Irish put on a good showing. Two things dispute that, though. First, Notre Dame got ahead early, so Navy was forced to pass earlier than they otherwise would have to try to save the game. Second, when you look at the running backs from Navy, they averaged well over eight yards per carry. That’s not good defense.
The rest of the opponents on the Notre Dame schedule were teams that were either average or lousy on the ground. Michigan was the second-best running team even though they were ranked just 40th in the nation, and they managed 161 yards despite throwing five interceptions that cost them the ball and forced them to keep passing to try to get back into the game. Boston College is the second worst major conference running team, behind only Washington State. Pitt was 89th in the country. Miami was 84th. Michigan State, USC, and BYU were all in the bottom half of the national rankings. I could go on, but you get the point — Notre Dame’s run defense has not been tested, and it can’t be trusted to produce like it has all year. I see no reason why the Tide can’t try to establish the run early and allow that to create opportunities and set the tone of the game.
If Alabama can run — and I think they will be able to — then the pressure is going to be on Golson and the Irish offense to score to keep up. If Alabama does control the ground game then Notre Dame will face the added pressure of having to score reasonably quickly because they won’t have the luxury — or the ability — to run their offense on the ground as well. So, can Golson excel in this situation? I’m doubtful.
I would have troubles trusting Golson against any championship game-caliber opponent. His passing numbers were not that impressive. When you look though, those already-underwhelming stats were inflated against weak opponents — he played 11 games, but eight of his touchdowns and almost 1,100 yards came against just four weaker opponents — Wake Forest, Boston College Pitt, and Purdue. Michigan’s pass defense was rated higher than Alabama’s heading into the SEC Championship. Alabama’s defensive minds have a month to prepare for this game. They will focus on ways to force Golson to pass, and if and when that happens the results won’t be pretty.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I think Alabama is going to win this game. The issue, though, is that 10 points is a lot to give up in any situation. I’m really not comfortable doing it, but ultimately I think Alabama is a far superior team, and I really don’t see Notre Dame winning. That means to bet on Notre Dame I would be hoping for them to not lose too badly. That doesn’t seem logical, so I will begrudgingly endorse yet another SEC National Champion for now. I see Alabama winning this game by more than a touchdown. So right now they are a small play but we will wait until we get closer to game time to finalize and hopefully see the line move down some. As I posted towards the end of this thread last year the BCS Championship game was my biggest and best bet of bowl season, this year its definitely not. I have been on the Alabama bandwagon all month and really still not impressed by Notre Dame, taking nothing away from what they accomplished. I think the only thing that stops me from making this a big play is the system showing Alabama to win by a touchdown. So I will stick to my guns but want to buy it down and I have been on the Over since the very beginning and still feel their will be some scoring tonight.