The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have dropped to No. 4 in the College Football BCS Rankings. Barring an upset or two ahead of them, that’s where they’ll likely finish the season even if they win their remaining games.
No team is unbeatable, theoretically, but Oregon, Kansas State and Alabama all have favorable schedules down the stretch.
Have you seen Oregon’s offense? They look unstoppable right now. The same goes for Kansas State’s Heisman hopeful Collin Klein-led offense. Alabama, while not unstoppable, has been crushing the opposition with a stout defense and ball-control style offense.
Still, it’s intriguing to think about how the Irish would match up against the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide if somehow the fates aligned and Notre Dame were to squeak into the title game.
Let’s take a look at a couple of intriguing positional matchups that would define an Irish vs. Crimson Tide clash.
Crimson Tide Defense vs. Mobile Quarterbacks
Everett Golson is not your typical run-first scrambling college quarterback despite having the ability to do so. Luckily that’s not the case for the Irish, because the Crimson Tide has locked down opposing quarterbacks this season. They held Denard Robinson to just 27 yards on 10 carries.
Golson, though, has the ability to extend plays by slipping out of the pocket. For a freshman, he makes good decisions (for the most part) and can find holes in a defense once it falls back into coverage.
It isn’t so much that he’s looking to run the ball but that he improvises with what the defense gives him. Alabama isn’t likely to give him much, but when he can, he’ll try to pick up some chunks on the ground.
All in all, Alabama has the advantage in bottling up Golson and forcing him and the Irish to beat them with the pass.
The Running Games
Alabama has run the ball as a point of emphasis under Nick Saban. They’ve done it with an imposing offensive line and a variety of different backs that are physical, shifty and multi-talented. This season they’ve got two dynamic backs in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
Notre Dame has been stingy in the ground game, giving up just over 100 yards per game. They’re being led by an experienced and imposing front seven that’s led by Heisman hopeful Manti Te’o.
But it hasn’t been all success for the Irish unit to this point. They’ve allowed 140-plus yards four times on the ground this season against Navy, Michigan, Stanford and Pittsburgh. Alabama hasn’t rushed for under 100 yards in a game this season and put up 232 yards on the ground against the Wolverines while giving up just 69 and a 2.4 yards-per-carry average.
Notre Dame’s rushing game is no slouch, though. They’re averaging 200 yards per game with a 4.7 yards-per-carry average. Their backfield combination of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood has provided them with an excellent rotation that keeps both of their backs fresh throughout the game and throughout the season.
When healthy, George Atkinson III also gives the Irish another dimension. He’s averaging eight yards per carry and has racked up 303 yards and four touchdowns so far this year.
Notre Dame doesn’t have the clear-cut advantage here, but it could be a neutralizing factor for the team due to the potential explosiveness of George Atkinson III. The Irish kick returner has been slowed by injuries and hasn’t broken one in the return game yet but has game-changing speed that could change the game in favor of the Irish with one touch of the ball.
On the other sideline, Christion Jones has been effective for the Crimson Tide in both the kicking and punt-return game. He’s averaging 30.3 yards per kick return and 11.7 yards per as the team’s primary punt returner.
Irish kicker Kyle Brindza has stepped in for injured Nick Tausch and had a turbulent ride so far this season. He’s connected on just 17 of 23 field-goal attempts, raising question marks about Notre Dame’s legitimacy in the kicking game.
Notre Dame plays a very similar style of football, but not really to the same level of efficiency as the Crimson Tide. They both rely on ball control and winning the game at the point of attack but will also air it out to keep teams honest.
Alabama is the clear-cut favorite should these two teams end up meeting in a bowl game this season. They simply have too many different options offensively as well as the best defense in the nation.
However, as LSU showed last week, a defensive team like Notre Dame could give the Crimson Tide a run for their money. Alabama wasn’t very tested in close games until last week, and anything can happen in those types of matchups.
The biggest X-factor for the Irish would have to be their front seven. Beyond everything else, if the Irish can stall, if not stop, the Crimson Tide offense and force some punts, they may be able to keep things close enough to compete.
Sustaining drives won’t be easy for the Irish, but a big play or two on offense and one in the special teams game might be enough for them to pull off the upset.
In the end, it will probably not even happen, because the odds against Notre Dame surpassing both Oregon and Kansas State are so low.