Las Vegas provides, perhaps, the most unbiased opinion of any college football team's ability.
The line-setters out in Las Vegas have treated the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in a rather peculiar fashion during the 2012 season, and much to their advantage.
They overvalued Notre Dame when it played subpar competition and undervalued the Irish against elite competition.
Those same line-setters were busy last week leading up to the SEC Championship Game, lending out hypothetical lines pitting different SEC teams—Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia and Alabama, among others—against the Irish. And as expected, Notre Dame was the underdog in each matchup, only adding to the SEC's perceived dominance over the sport.
And now that the SEC champion has been determined—Alabama defeated Georgia, 32-28, in Atlanta over the weekend—the line has been set for January's BCS National Championship Game in Miami: The Tide is a nine-point favorite over the Irish, per BetOnline.com.
In this humble writer's opinion, that's a fair spread.
But Alabama fans shouldn't be feeling too cocky, for Notre Dame has relished the role of underdog during its undefeated season.
Prior to the current season, many writers, including yours truly, postulated that the Irish would finish the 2012 season no better than 8-4. Some even proclaimed that Notre Dame would finish an abysmal 6-6.
Those predictions all look more than foolish now, as head coach Brian Kelly willed his team to a sterling 12-0 record and a spot in college football's most prestigious game against an Alabama program that is hell-bent on claiming a third national championship in four years.
Vegas was in line with the sportswriters, as it pegged Notre Dame as an underdog against Michigan State, Michigan, Oklahoma and USC weeks before the season began. And even as the season progressed, the Irish remained underdogs against the Spartans and Sooners.
However, the Irish sprung upsets in East Lansing and Norman, defeating both then 10th-ranked Michigan State, 20-3, on Sept. 15 and then-eighth-ranked Oklahoma, 30-13, on Oct. 27.
What we learned in both matchups is that Notre Dame rises to the occasion against elite competition, particularly away from Notre Dame Stadium. Will the same hold true against No. 2 Alabama in Miami on Jan. 7? Only time will tell, but for now, we have roughly 35 days to speculate on the final outcome.
Be wary, Notre Dame fans. Alabama isn't Oklahoma, and it certainly isn't Michigan State. In fact, Nick Saban's bunch is exponentially better than both of those teams. But that doesn't mean Notre Dame isn't capable of pulling off yet another upset.
Alabama's style of offense, which I outlined in a column last week, plays into Notre Dame's favor. The Tide prides itself on running the football with a stable of potent running backs behind a seemingly impenetrable offensive line. However, Saban's smashmouth offense hasn't seen a rushing defense as stout as Notre Dame's yet during the 2012 season.
If the Irish's fifth-ranked rushing defense is able to slow Alabama's rushing attack, then we'll have a barn-burner on our hands down in Miami next month.
I like the odds of that happening, as well as the Irish's penchant for springing the upset, so the smart money is on Notre Dame.
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