The stage is set, and what a stage it will be. Alabama will play Notre Dame on Monday, Jan. 7 in the BCS National Championship Game. And despite what Vegas says, the play on the field could very well match the impossible hype that is already underway. Actually, it’s been underway for quite a while now.
Fear the SEC? Not so fast, my friends.
Notre Dame, of course, locked up its spot in college football’s biggest showcase with a 22-13 win over USC last weekend in what many called a semifinal of sorts. Well, at least for one team involved.
Speaking of semifinals, Alabama and Georgia’s larger-than-life tussle in the SEC Championship Game—and this is one we will be talking about for a variety of reasons for quite some time—was a true playoff game.
Win and you’re in, and Alabama edged Georgia, 32-28, thanks in large part to a key touchdown pass, a strange final play for Georgia near the goal line and that incredible Alabama running game, which racked up 350 yards.
No further steps needed to secure this one, and there will be no surprises. The voters, decimals and BCS necessities are all in place, and Alabama will duke it out with Notre for the crystal football.
Having fun yet?
If you’re a Notre Dame fan, Alabama supporter or BCS official ready for monster ratings, you certainly are. You’ll gladly wait more than a month for this one.
This is always a strange time of year, and the buildup for a game involving two of college football’s most storied programs and passionate fanbases will elevate the madness. Prepare yourself, and prepare yourself for the question that will be asked one million times between now and the start of 2013.
Can Notre Dame hang with Alabama? Should Brian Kelly be afraid of having to go up against Nick Saban? Absolutely it can, no he should not and assuming a blowout in this game would be foolish.
Las Vegas certainly sees this as an uneven match of sorts, and a point spread for this has already surfaced. We had heard numbers for this hypothetical scenario prior to it becoming official, but the line is set now.
According to the online sportsbook 5Dimes, Notre Dame is more than a 10-point underdog:
Alabama opens favored by 10.5 over Notre Dame [via 5Dimes]— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) December 2, 2012
This could change, but Alabama will certainly be more than a touchdown favorite, and this line could very well stay in the double digits.
Point spreads don’t tell the whole story, of course, but they do give an idea what experts (and the folks that set this number are football experts) believe will happen.
To put it bluntly, I don’t feel the same, and I believe the SEC’s impressive streak of national championships is indeed in jeopardy. Don’t sprint to your local bookie, but consider the following.
Although giving Saban a month to prepare for a football game is troubling, Kelly will also take full advantage of this extended time. Once he’s gone to New York City with his star linebacker—perhaps coming home with some Heisman hardware—Kelly, who’s also a tremendous one-game coach himself, will get back to work.
Bigger yet, his young quarterback, Everett Golson, will get more time in the film room, on the practice field and time to further improve his level of play. As we watched him develop over the last part of the season, more time under center proved to be crucial in the team’s success.
Was he doing it against defenses like Alabama's? Nope, but it doesn’t mean he can’t have success. We saw Texas A&M have tremendous success against the Alabama secondary, and Johnny Manziel’s mobility proved to be a huge problem for Saban’s group.
Is Golson on Johnny Football’s level? Not quite, but there’s much to be excited about when watching him play, and his ability will be something Alabama has to really game-plan for.
On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame’s defense certainly has its work cut out for it against this massive offensive line, but this is a tremendous group that will force AJ McCarron to make plays.
McCarron is more than capable, as we saw with his critical touchdown pass to Amari Cooper late in the SEC Championship Game, but he’s also struggled at times. If Brian Kelly can force him into 3rd-and-long situations, the Irish will put themselves in a position to be successful more times than not.
Easier said than done against Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon—an incredible duo at running back—but they have the front seven on defense to make this possible.
Notre Dame will be knocked endlessly for lacking style points over the next 30 days. It will be knocked for being, well, Notre Dame, and many will dismiss its chances in the title game against last year’s champion. It's the SEC, of course, college football's giant against college football's "former" giant.
But Alabama is beatable, and the Tide are not the same dominant force from a year ago. They are a tremendous group with talent all over the field and a magnificent offensive line, but Notre Dame can match them blow for blow.
The Irish are also not lacking confidence, and while an overtime nail-biter against Pitt and some ugly early-season showings will remain in the minds of many, there’s something to be said about how they’ve done it. It’s inexplicable in many ways, which is a scary thing to go against.
Alabama will be more than ready for it, but expect Notre Dame to do more than just fight back.
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