Rose Bowl 2020: Full Preview and Predictions for Notre Dame vs. Alabama

Keegan PopeContributor IIIDecember 21, 2020

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs against Florida during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Saturday's ACC Championship Game went about as bad as Notre Dame could have imagined. 

In a rematch with Clemson, who the Fighting Irish beat in double-overtime earlier this season, Brain Kelly's squad looked completely overmatched from start to finish, and with star quarterback Trevor Lawrence back in the Tigers' lineup, Notre Dame had no answer. 

And yet, when the final College Football Playoff rankings were released Sunday, the Irish were still exactly where they'd hoped: in the Top Four and in the playoff. That's the good news. The less-than-good news is that instead of facing Ohio State, which unimpressively scraped by Northwestern in the Big Ten title game, Notre Dame gets a date with No. 1 Alabama and arguably one of the best offenses in college football history.

If Saturday's smackdown at the hands of Lawrence and Co. is any indication of what the Crimson Tide's offense will do, it's going to be a very long afternoon on Jan. 1. 


Keys to the Game 


Really, it should be a singular key to the game. Because only one thing will decide whether this game is competitive or not: Can Notre Dame slow down one of the highest-flying offenses in the country after giving up 541 yards to Clemson this past weekend?

Through its first 10 games, Notre Dame's defense had been nothing short of stout, holding opponents to fewer than 220 passing yards per game while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just over 50 percent of their passes. The Irish were particularly good at preventing big plays, and even though they ranked 60th in turnovers gained, they were able to hold opponents to just 18.6 points per game.

But there's a gulf of difference between teams like Louisville, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, which scored a combined 23 points against Notre Dame, and Alabama, which averages 29.6 points per game in the first half alone. 

And get this: The Tide have been even better in their last three games, putting up 39.3 first-half points per contest. In their 52-46 win over No. 7 Florida in the SEC Championship Game, Alabama was again led by the three-headed monster of quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, all of whom are legitimate Heisman Trophy contenders while playing in the same offense. 

Harris, who has been the best running back in the country by just about every statistical category, racked up 245 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns, giving him 1,578 yards from scrimmage and 27 total touchdowns for the season. And while the Tide do have senior Brian Robinson Jr. to spell him, Harris has been a singular workhorse, touching the ball 22.3 times per game, which is more than double any other player on offense. 

Feeding him is junior signal-caller Mac Jones, who has transformed from being a game manager filling in for the injured Tua Tagovailoa last season to a bona fide All-American. Jones is completing an unimaginable 76.5 percent of his passes, averaging nearly 340 yards per game and throwing for 32 touchdowns against just four interceptions. And almost all of that is without Jaylen Waddle, Alabama's best wide receiver coming into this season, who has missed the final six games of the season with a broken ankle. 

Initially thought to be a season-ending injury, Waddle's ankle has recovered extremely well, according to head coach Nick Saban. As of last week, Waddle was out of a boot and running on a treadmill but hadn't returned to practice. With a little less than two weeks until the national semifinal, it seems unlikely the Tide would risk re-injury, but with another 10 days after that before a possible national championship matchup, Waddle might be able to go against either Clemson or Ohio State. 

If he isn't, Alabama has been just fine with DeVonta Smith as Jones' No. 1 target. The senior wideout has put together one of the most impressive seasons by a receiver in recent memory, and he's done it in only 11 games. His 98 catches and 1,511 yards lead the country, and he's second in receiving touchdowns with 17. In a normal season where Alabama would've played 12 regular-season games and the SEC Championship, Smith would be on pace for 115 catches, 1,785 yards and 20 touchdowns.

And he's done all of this against an SEC-only schedule with none of the usual cupcake opponents that elite players rack up huge numbers against. 


Notre Dame

For Notre Dame offensively, quarterback Ian Book has been a terrific game manager, throwing just two interceptions on 314 pass attempts. But he's struggled significantly more against good defenses like Clemson's, who he completed 71 percent of his passes against in the ACC title game. However, he didn't throw a touchdown and rushed 10 times for minus-35 yards. 

Opposite this Alabama offense, he and the Fighting Irish will have to score points and hope their defense can slow the game down. If Book has to throw 40-45 times just playing catch-up, Notre Dame is in big trouble. 


Prediction: There has been one clear-cut best team in the country this year, and that team resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It's hard to imagine anyone beating this team and this offense, let alone a Notre Dame squad that got humbled pretty soundly by Clemson. Too much Mac Jones, Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith. The Tide roll. Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14.