Rose Bowl 2021: Schedule, Top Storylines to Follow in Notre Dame vs. Alabama

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 29, 2020

Rose Bowl 2021: Schedule, Top Storylines to Follow in Notre Dame vs. Alabama

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Alabama Crimson Tide have been one of the two most successful programs in the College Football Playoff era. 

    The 2021 Rose Bowl (4 p.m. ET, ESPN on New Year's Day) will mark the 10th game Alabama has played in a national semifinal or national championship since 2014. The Clemson Tigers will also participate in their 10th CFB Playoff game at the Sugar Bowl. 

    This year's iteration of the Crimson Tide may be the most unstoppable unit Nick Saban has brought to the final four. 

    None of Alabama's opponents have stopped Mac Jones, Najee Harris or DeVonta Smith. Those three players could power the Tide past the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at AT&T Stadium on New Year's Day.

    Notre Dame comes into the Rose Bowl with more questions to answer after it fell flat in the ACC Championship game against Clemson.

    Brian Kelly's squad does not have a good playoff record after scoring just three points in its first playoff appearance at the 2018 Cotton Bowl.

Can Alabama's Dominant Trio Be Stopped?

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Jones, Harris and Smith powered Alabama's offense to 49.7 points per game. 

    In four of the last five games, the 3,000-yard passer, 1,200-yard rusher and 1,500-yard receiver helped the Crimson Tide eclipse the 50-point mark.

    Even in games in which the Alabama defense has struggled to get stops, the trio came up with big plays to make up for their teammates' struggles. 

    In the 63-48 win over the Ole Miss Rebels, the Alabama defense gave up 647 total yards. The Tide offense wracked up 723 total yards and scored one more touchdown in the third and fourth quarters to outlast their SEC West foe. 

    Alabama's top stars have shown up in each of the team's Top 25 clashes as well. In the SEC Championship game, Jones threw for 418 yards, Harris ran for 178 yards and Smith totaled 184 yards through the air. 

    On Friday, the offensive stars face a Notre Dame defense that was gashed for 541 total yards and 34 points in the ACC Championship game loss to Clemson.

    If the two sides perform similarly to their respective conference championship games, we could witness another Alabama blowout in the semifinal round. The SEC champion held three of its five semifinal opponents to single digits. 

Will Notre Dame Reverse Its Poor Championship Form?

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Notre Dame has disappointed in most of the opportunities it received to beat the nation's top programs in the playoff era.

    The Fighting Irish mustered just a field goal in their lone playoff appearance and managed just 10 points in the ACC Championship game. 

    Since the start of the 2014 season, Notre Dame is 2-8 against Top 10 teams. One of those victories was cancelled out by Clemson in their ACC rematch on December 19. The other victory came over the Stanford Cardinal in 2018.

    Notre Dame's quest to end that poor run against the nation's elite teams features one of the most unenviable tasks in college football.

    The Irish need to find a way to slow down one or two of Alabama's offensive stars while holding the Crimson Tide to a low point total.

    Even in games where Harris or Smith struggled, the other elite players have led the Tide to a high offensive output. For example, Alabama produced over 50 points in both games that Harris rushed for fewer than 50 yards.

    If Notre Dame performs like it did in the first meeting with Clemson, where it earned a 47-40 double-overtime victory, it could break the stigma of it playing poorly in big games. 

    But if Alabama carves up the Irish defense, like it has done to many previous playoff foes, the Irish's record against the nation's best squads will get even worse.


    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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