BCS Championship 2013: Which Team Has the Advantage at Every Position

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIJanuary 7, 2013

BCS Championship 2013: Which Team Has the Advantage at Every Position

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    The 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 7. The monstrous defenses of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will battle for supremacy and the crystal football.

    The offenses are a mismatch, but Notre Dame has a penchant for stopping teams from scoring once they get into the red zone. Sure, Notre Dame gives up more yards than Alabama, but the Irish also give up fewer points than the Tide.

    Miami's Sun Life Stadium will host a titanic clash of two of college football's most-storied teams. The Fighting Irish have come from outside the Preseason AP Top 25 to BCS No. 1, and the Tide have overcome seemingly devastating losses to the NFL to be ranked BCS No. 2.

    Who will win this season's title? If you believe the Vegas guys, Alabama will win by roughly 10 points (spread is Alabama minus-9.5, according to sportsbook.ag). If you believe the results of the season so far, Notre Dame will find a way to win for the 13th time this season.

    Here is a breakdown of each team at every position. Who truly has the advantage? From the quarterback to the coaches, here are the verdicts.

    *Information from ESPN.com and cfbstats.com was used in this article.


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    A.J. McCarron: 191-of-286, 2,669 yards, 26 TD, 3 INT, 173.1 rating

    Notre Dame

    Everett Golson: 166-of-282, 2,135 yards, 11 TD, 5 INT, 131.8 rating

    Tommy Rees: 34-of-59, 436 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 124.1 rating.

    Tommy Rees is mentioned because of his ability as a closer. If Everett Golson falters, Rees is a valid and proven backup that can bring the Irish home if he is needed.

    On top of that, Rees provided Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide with a second quarterback to prepare for during the month of December. That may prove to be more helpful than people realize.

    A.J. McCarron, on the other hand, has the nation's second-best quarterback rating with his 173.1. (Georgia's Aaron Murray passed McCarron with his performance against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.) McCarron is lethal with the ball and has led the Tide to their second national championship appearance in a row.

    Golson has gotten better as the year has progressed, but he is still a first-year starter. Even with the threat of two useful quarterbacks on the Irish bench, McCarron's experience under center gives Alabama a decided advantage over Notre Dame.

    Advantage: Alabama Crimson Tide

Running Back

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    Eddie Lacy: 184 carries, 1,182 yards, 16 TD

    T.J. Yeldon: 154 carries, 1,000 yards, 11 TD

    Notre Dame

    Theo Riddick: 180 carries, 880 yards, 5 TD

    Cierre Wood: 110 carries, 740 yards, 4 TD

    Alabama's top two rushers are responsible for 27 of the Tide's 35 touchdowns on the ground. Notre Dame's top two have scored nine of the Irish's 22 touchdowns.

    Both teams will fight an uphill battle trying to stop the other from running the ball, but Notre Dame's battle will be more difficult to win.

    Alabama is averaging 5.6 yards per rush, and Notre Dame is averaging 5.0. The kicker here is that neither team has faced the other yet.

    Alabama has the nation's 19th-best rushing attack, Notre Dame the nation's 29th-best (based on yards per game). Unfortunately for Alabama, Notre Dame has faced two of the nation's top 10 rushing defenses: BYU (No. 2) and Michigan State (No. 9). Alabama has faced only one, and that was LSU (No. 10).

    Notre Dame rushed for 122 yards against Michigan State and 270 yards against BYU. Alabama rushed for 166 yards against LSU. So far, the teams look pretty even in the rushing aspect, but let's take a look at strength of schedule to break the tie.

    How did Michigan State get to be the No. 9-ranked rushing defense? The Spartans played the nation's 29th-strongest schedule. How about BYU? The Cougars waded through the nation's 47th-hardest schedule. Finally, LSU's SoS was second in the nation, behind only Alabama.

    The last bit of statistical analysis is also indicative that these tandems are almost equal. How much better is the Lacy/Yeldon combo than the Riddick/Wood combo? Not much:

    Yeldon has rushed for 1,000 yards, or 84.6 percent of Lacy's 1,182.

    Wood has rushed for 740 yards, or 84.1 percent of Riddick's 880.

    Alabama's rushing attack may be better than Notre Dame's, and the stats support that. However, the idea that Alabama's ground game is light years ahead of the Irish is just not true. This aspect of the game is going to be decided by the battle in the trenches, not by the talent of the tailbacks.

    At the true running back position, Alabama has a slight advantage, but when running backs are making catches out of the backfield, Notre Dame balances things out. Riddick tops Lacy, Alabama's best receiving tailback, by 15 catches and almost 200 receiving yards. 

    Advantage: None. (Alabama's rushing advantage cancels out Notre Dame's receiving advantage.)

Wide Receiver

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    Amari Cooper: 53 receptions, 895 yards, 9 TD (16.9 yards per catch)

    Kenny Bell: 17 receptions, 431 yards, 3 TD (25.4 yards per catch)

    Kevin Norwood: 26 receptions, 395 yards, 4 TD (15.2 yards per catch)

    Christion Jones: 25 receptions, 328 yards, 4 TD (13.1 yards per catch)

    Notre Dame

    T.J. Jones: 43 receptions, 559 yards, 4 TD (13.0 yards per catch)

    DaVaris Daniels: 25 receptions, 375 yards (15.0 yards per catch)

    Robby Toma: 24 receptions, 252 yards (10.5 yards per catch)

    Kenny Bell is questionable (broken leg) for the national title game, so he has been removed from further evaluation until that changes.

    Alabama's top three wide receivers total 104 catches for 1,618 yards and 17 touchdowns. Notre Dame's top three have 92 catches for 1,186 yards and four touchdowns. Alabama averages 15.6 yards per catch with its top three wideouts, and Notre Dame's average is 12.9.

    When it comes to true wide receivers, Alabama's corps is clearly better on touchdown comparison alone.

    Advantage: Alabama Crimson Tide

Tight End

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    Michael Williams: 21 receptions, 166 yards, 3 TD (7.9 yards per catch)

    Kelly Johnson: 4 receptions, 34 yards (8.5 yards per catch)

    Notre Dame

    Tyler Eifert: 44 receptions, 624 yards, 4 TD (14.2 yards per catch)

    Troy Niklas: 5 receptions, 75 yards, 1 TD (15.0 yards per catch)

    Alabama and Notre Dame are marked by stifling defenses and offenses that can get the job done, though it doesn't always look pretty (as with Alabama vs. LSU or Pittsburgh vs. Notre Dame).

    Tyler Eifert, this year's Mackey Award winner is the reason Notre Dame's job gets done. He's a 6'6", 251-pound beast that is nearly always a mismatch when he lines up anywhere on offense. If he lines up as a tight end, then he's up against someone slower than he is.

    If he lines up on the outside and garners coverage from the secondary, he's almost always up against someone shorter than he is. Even when he is double-covered, he does things like this. (Highlight is from 1:36 to 1:48 in the video.)

    Eifert and Troy Niklas have combined for 49 receptions, 699 yards and five touchdowns. Michael Williams and Kelly Johnson have combined for 25 receptions, 200 yards and three touchdowns.

    Both sets of tight ends are excellent in the blocking aspects of their game, but Notre Dame's set is far more effective in the receiving game. On twice as many catches, they have produced almost triple the yardage of 'Bama's top two.

    Advantage: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Offensive Line

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    Alabama team rushing: 525 carries, 2,920 yards, 35 TD

    Notre Dame team rushing: 487 carries, 2,430 yards, 22 TD

    Alabama's rushing attack is good for 5.6 yards per carry on the season, and Notre Dame's ground game earns a respectable five yards per carry. While there is a slight advantage here, the fact is that you only need 10 yards for a first down.

    Both offensive lines do a great job of protecting their backfield and opening holes for the tailbacks, but the Tide place two first-team All-America selections on the line of scrimmage in Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack.

    The offensive lines are stout, but the difference in this game could be a field goal. If you needed six yards for your kicker, Notre Dame's front line would have a slightly more difficult time getting it for you.

    Advantage: Alabama Crimson Tide

Defensive Line

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    Opponents' rushing: 421 attempts, 1,037 yards (2.46 yards per carry), 79.77 yards per game

    Sacks: 33.0 in 13 games, 2.54 sacks per game

    Notre Dame

    Opponents' rushing: 351 attempts, 1,109 yards (3.16 yards per carry), 92.42 yards per game

    Sacks: 34.0 in 12 games, 2.83 sacks per game

    As you can see, Notre Dame and Alabama are very close in terms of sacks, with the Irish having a slight advantage. Both teams are great at putting pressure on the quarterback.

    Alabama is better at stopping the run, but it gave up 113 rushing yards to Georgia in the 2012 SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1. That may not seem like a lot, but it's 41.7 percent more than its average.

    Neither of these teams is going to give up a blowout at the line of scrimmage, at least not on defense. The offensive lines will have to take it from them. This is yet another aspect of the game that points to a long, drawn-out slugfest.

    Advantage: None


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    – 27 rushing plays of 10 or more yards (first in the nation)

    – C.J. Mosley: 99 total tackles (92nd in the nation)

    Notre Dame

    – 35 rushing plays of 10 or more yards (sixth in the nation)

    – Manti Te'o: 103 total tackles (74th in the nation)

    Mosley and Te'o are vastly different in number of interceptions. Mosley has two to Te'o's seven. Te'o also has seven major awards on the season: the Nagurski Award, National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete Award, Lombardi Trophy, Bednarik Award, Maxwell Trophy and the Walter Camp National Player of the Year award.

    In high-profile games, playmakers are difference-makers: Tyrann Mathieu was the key against Oregon in the 2011 season opener; A.J. McCarron was the difference against LSU earlier this season. Te'o will need to make sure he's a playmaker against Alabama in Miami.

    Both these team leaders are All-Americans, though, so that does even things out a bit. Te'o will have to earn this expected advantage on Jan. 7 against the best team he's faced all season.

    Advantage: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Defensive Back

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    – Allowed 37 plays of 20-plus yards (2.85 such plays per game)

    – 10.7 points allowed per game (No. 2 nationally)

    Notre Dame

    – Allowed 29 plays of 20-plus yards (2.42 plays per game)

    – 10.3 points allowed per game (No. 1 nationally)

    Both these teams have stellar scoring defenses, allowing an average of just over 10 points per game. The secondary is a huge part of that, especially when you see the number of plays that each has given up for 20 or more yards.

    When a running back or screen receiver makes it to the secondary, it's the defensive backs' job to make sure it doesn't cost the team six points. So far, so good for the championship contenders.

    The slight edge goes to Alabama for fielding an All-America selection in its secondary in cornerback Dee Milliner.

    Slight advantage: Alabama Crimson Tide

Special Teams

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    Punting: Cody Mandell has 46 punts this season at an average of 43.85 yards per punt.

    Field Goals: Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster, 15-of-20 (75 percent)

    Notre Dame

    Punting: Ben Turk has 48 punts this season at an average of 40.6 yards per punt.

    Field Goals: Kyle Brindza 24-of-32 (75 percent)

    Notre Dame and Alabama both do not want to rely on their place-kickers for the national championship. Sure, 75 percent is OK, but this is for the crystal football. You don't show up at the title game for an "OK" shot at a championship.

    The punting is going to make a huge difference in this game, especially if the defenses both turn out to be as good as analyzed. Neither team has an elite set of kickers, but both teams are excellent in coverage.

    Alabama has allowed zero punt returns of 20-plus yards, and Notre Dame has only allowed one. Both teams are a little deficient in the kickoff aspect, though.

    Alabama has allowed seven kickoff returns of 30-plus yards, and Notre Dame has allowed nine.

    Advantage: None


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    Alabama's Nick Saban and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly have both fought through adversity this season to punch their tickets to Miami for the BCS title game. Both coaches have brought teams from nothing to relevance in three short seasons.

    The difference is that Saban has been here before. Saban is fighting for his third national championship in four years and the Tide's second in a row. Both would be BCS-era firsts.

    Kelly has brought Notre Dame from being irrelevant Champs Sports Bowl participants straight to the national title game in just one 12-game season.

    Both coaches are worthy of being in Miami, but one has a distinct advantage: In both conference and national championships combined, Saban has a 5-1 record. In postseason games at Alabama, Saban is 5-1. His only loss was to Utah in the Sugar Bowl after the 2008 season.

    Saban has a coaching advantage in almost every game he plays.

    Advantage: Alabama Crimson Tide

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