After beating up on the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 in recent BCS Championship Games, the SEC ego is as big as it can get, and rightfully so. The league has taken down all comers, and with the exception of Oregon, it has done so with relative ease. So, it stands to reason that folks in SEC country are quite dismissive of this 2012 Notre Dame squad.
Wake up folks! This is a whole new beast from the teams your league has taken down in the past. Notre Dame is as SEC as a team in Indiana can get, and it's heading down to Miami ready for a fistfight.
Let's talk talent. The Fighting Irish are not Oregon. That's to say they are not a couple of elite skill players sprinkled in with a bunch of middle of the road linemen and defensive players that most big-time schools did not want. No, Notre Dame's two deep comes as highly touted as most in the SEC, including Alabama's.
Like Alabama, this is a team that is built from the front on back. Massive offensive linemen that were highly touted out of high school, playing together as a unit to move bodies and protect the quarterback. Players that took that high ranking coming in and turned it into production.
That said, the skill players on offense are no slouches either. There is TJ Jones, who you likely remember as the receiver who was offered scholarships by Alabama and Georgia, among others, before electing to go to Notre Dame. Cierre Wood held offers from Florida and Auburn but picked the Irish. Their signal-caller, Everett Golson, was an athlete that Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio State and plenty more were desperate to get into their fold.
In other words, this offense is not the "undertalented, scrappy" unit that folks want to bill it as. Certainly it has had hiccups, but that is not for lack of talent. Player for player, on the line and at the skill positions, they have a lot of bodies that will end up on NFL rosters, most notably their tight end Tyler Eifert.
On defense is where the talent discussion truly gets brought into the SEC's living room. Sure, we know Manti Te'o is an all-world player, but the guys around him can play too, especially in the front seven. If Will Muschamp had his way, the Irish's three down linemen, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix III and Sheldon Day, would be playing for Florida right now.
Nick Saban was interested in Ishaq Williams to play in his 3-4; instead the linebacker is suiting up against Saban in Miami.
Point being, these kids can play. And unlike some teams that have great schemes but lack players with top-end talent, Notre Dame's defense is brimming with talent, and it shows on every snap.
Do you think Notre Dame is talented and tough enough to play 60 minutes with Alabama?
As an SEC fan, do not sleep on this team. This is not Oklahoma. Notre Dame will not fold like a lawn chair when it gets punched in the face early. This is not Oregon. Notre Dame does not lack the bodies to go a full 60 minutes. This is not Ohio State. Notre Dame's front seven runs just as well as anyone's.
Hell, this is not even Georgia, to be fair. Unlike the Bulldogs, who saw Jarvis Jones disappear once Alabama decided to knuckle up and run the ball, Notre Dame's best defensive player is not going to shy away from contact. Manti Te'o has no issue taking on a block, shedding the lineman or blocking back, and then pushing to make a tackle.
That is the type of football that Notre Dame's defense has signed up to play all season long.
This is not all to say that the Irish are better than Alabama. Rather, the point here is to respect them because, like Alabama, they are not a gimmick. Cute offenses and dressed-up schemes that help players out perform their skill set are nice, but being able to shove the other team around never goes out of style.
So, SEC fan, while we know Notre Dame's been irrelevant to you for a long time and you swear it is skating by on its name and name alone, calm yourself. This Fighting Irish squad is just as ready for a physical slugfest as the Crimson Tide.