As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.
Monday, January 7
8:30: Notre Dame vs. Alabama (BCS Championship Game @ Miami Gardens, FL; ESPN): Here we are, once again. I have Alabama winning 17-10, and for once, I feel pretty good about that. Why? Well, I’m not sure. Alabama’s offense is actually a little underrated if you ask me – this isn’t a team that scrapes out 10-7 games. The fewest points they’ve scored all year was in Baton Rouge against LSU, where they won 21-17. They’ve had only two other close games all year. The first was, of course, the 29-24 loss to Texas A&M. The second was the 32-28 win against Georgia in the SEC championship. Alabama basically won both those close games in the final minute, scoring the go-ahead touchdown against LSU with 51 seconds to go and not clinching the SEC title game until UGA’s receive fell down in the field of play with less than 10 seconds to go on first and goal. In the TAMU game, Bama got within six yards before throwing an interception on 4th and goal with less than two minutes to go. So, basically, to beat Alabama you need a mobile, Heisman winning quarterback and/or an elite defense.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, has no losses of course. However, their offense is lackluster, ranking 75th in the nation in scoring offense. However, when your opponents only score 10.3 points a game, it doesn’t take a lot outscore them. Notre Dame had three close games this season. The first was a 20-17 scare against Purdue on September 8. I’m willing to give that one a pass. The next was the overtime win against Stanford in October, which I think now is, safe to say, Notre Dame’s best win of the year. Stanford also sports a very good defense with a lackluster, workmanlike offense, and the game went into overtime 13-13. From there, the Irish defense, in one of the most controversial calls of the season, stopped Stanford on fourth and goal in the first overtime to seal the win. They had a small scare against BYU the next week, but the winning points were scored with over 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Irish’s second best win of the year was sealed the next week in Norman. The game was tied 13-13 with 9:10 to go, and then the Irish scored 17 straight points to stay unbeaten. The biggest scare of the season was, of course, the triple overtime win against Pitt. Notre Dame tied the game with 2:11 to go and held on through the first two overtimes until finally getting the winning touchdown. The USC game was close for a while, but ND never trailed after leading 3-0 less than 5 minutes into the game.
So what does this say? I’m not a SEC homer, but I don’t think it’s much of a reach to say that Alabama played a tougher schedule than Notre Dame did. The only other elite defense ND has really faced so far this year was Stanford’s. I think the Domers can give Alabama trouble with their defense, but the Alabama offense has just been that much better over the course against the season against tougher competition. While Everett Golson does provide some mobility to escape the pass rush, I also don’t think I’m going out on much of a limb to say he’s not Johnny Manziel. If this game really does come down to old-school, smash mouth football, well, that’s really playing right into Nick Saban and Alabama’s hands.
Previous meetings: Considering these are two of college football’s most storied teams, they have only met six times. The first meeting wasn’t actually until 1973 in the Sugar Bowl. Notre Dame won, 24-23. They had two more meetings in the 70’s. On New Year’s Day in 1975, they met again in the Orange Bowl and Notre Dame won again, 13-11. In 1976, they met in the regular season in South Bend, and the Tide lost again, 21-18. Four years later in Birmingham, the Tide still had no luck and lost 7-0. In 1986 and again in Birmingham, the Tide got their first and only win in the series so far, a solid 28-10 victory. Their last meeting was in 1987, when Alabama made the return trip to South Bend and lost in convincing fashion, 37-6. So, oddly, that also means all six previous meetings between these two happened in a span of 12 years. Again, odd.
Last bowl game: This is Alabama’s ninth straight bowl game, dating back to 2004 when they lost in the Music City Bowl to Minnesota, 20-16. As many will recall, they won last year’s BCS Championship Game against LSU, 21-0. This is the Irish’s third straight bowl game. They lost to Florida State in last year’s Champs Sports Bowl, 18-14.
Announcers: Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit
Fun facts: I was going to have the reason why they’re called the “Fighting Irish” here, but it turns out no one really knows for certain but that any of the interesting stories you’ve heard of probably aren’t true. Unfortunately, that’s not a terribly fun fact. Sorry.