While the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish already have a clear path to the BCS National Championship Game in January, their opponent will not be determined until an SEC champion is crowned on Saturday.
In that game, the Alabama Crimson Tide will look to keep its repeat national-championship hopes alive by defeating the Georgia Bulldogs. It will be a battle between the second- and third-best teams in the country, a matchup that some consider better than the national championship game.
Though the outcome is uncertain, it's apparent that the Irish should be rooting for the Bulldogs.
From a schematic and statistical standpoint, Georgia and Alabama are almost mirror images of each other. Led by veteran leaders at quarterback, scintillating two-headed attacks in the running game and defenses worthy of being called SEC elite, there are few personnel areas where Georgia and Alabama differ.
It just so happens that the Tide is the slightly better version in just about every facet of the game.
First, Alabama's offensive line is among the best in college football history. A veteran unit led by center Barrett Jones, the Tide have made a habit of swallowing up opposing front sevens.
Considering that their front seven is the main reason the Irish will walk out of the tunnel at Sun Life Stadium on Jan. 7, that has to be disconcerting. Manti Te'o can be as great as he wants, but when two 300-pound future NFL starters come barreling at him, even the best Heisman candidate will struggle.
With Everett Golson taking snaps behind center, it's also likely that Brian Kelly will want to limit the exposure of his young quarterback and rely on the ground game.
Alabama's run defense is the second best in the nation, giving up 77 yards per game, a minuscule 2.4 yards per carry. Georgia gives up more than twice that total and isn't even the best run defense in its state.
Even the Tide's biggest "weakness," pass defense, is better than the Bulldogs. Despite all of the talk about the Tide's weakness in the secondary, they have given fewer passing yards than the Bulldogs.
The seemingly small gap becomes even more considerable when looking at strength of schedule. Saturday will mark just the third ranked opponent Georgia has played, while it will be the fifth for Alabama and fourth in six weeks.
The teams' losses are also two diametrically opposite stories. The Tide fell in a down-to-the-last-second thriller against Texas A&M, while the Bulldogs got absolutely eviscerated by South Carolina.
The one position where statistical evidence points to Georgia is quarterback. Aaron Murray has had one of the more underrated campaigns of 2012, passing for 3,201 yards and 30 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
Murray has also shown an ability to connect on the deep ball. In 10 of Georgia's 12 games, he's hit a pass of 40 or more yards.
But in his only matchups against truly elite defenses (South Carolina and Florida), Murray showed a penchant for making big mistakes. In those games, the Georgia signal-caller completed just 23-of-55 passes for 259 yards and one touchdown against four interceptions.
On the other hand, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, has thrown just two interceptions all season against 26 touchdown passes.
The case for Alabama is further strengthened by advanced metrics. According to Football Outsiders' FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index) rankings, Georgia had the No. 16 offense and No. 22 defense in the FBS this season. Alabama ranked 10th in offensively and eighth defensively.
These may seem like minuscule differences, but remember,folks, football is a game of inches. If the Irish want to hoist their first national championship since 1988, they will need every advantage humanly possible.
It just so happens that Notre Dame's biggest possible advantage—the identity of its opponent— is completely out of its hands.
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