Of course they can. That’s not a prediction, but it’s foolish to think Notre Dame doesn’t have a decent chance of pulling off the upset. Alabama is currently favored by a whopping 9.5 points, which seems like a lot to me.
Of course there are plenty of reasons for Alabama to be favored, as the SEC has been on a roll and Notre Dame’s undefeated season had its share of close calls. But we also know that anything can happen in the National Championship game.
In arguing Notre Dame’s case, Bruce Feldman points out that Notre Dame stacks up well physically against Alabama, or any college team for that matter.
The Irish are No. 4 in the nation against the run. As I wrote last week, they look much like a top SEC team. Their D-line, anchored by 340-pound Floridian Louis Nix, is going to be a problem for anyone. Ends Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore each are north of 300 pounds, and both — like Nix — are surprisingly nimble. The smallest of the ND’s four linebackers weighs 240 pounds, and the guts of the defense — Manti Te’o — would start at every program in the SEC.
He then makes a comparison that I’ve considered as well, being a die-hard Buckeye fan.
A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine who is an NFL player likened this year’s Fighting Irish team to the 2002 Ohio State squad quarterbacked by Craig Krenzel that won the BCS title by stunning a Miami team that was the defending national champs and riding a 34-game winning streak. That OSU team, like this ND team, was coming off a five-loss season and made it to the BCS title game after starting the season outside the preseason Top 10 by winning a bunch of close games.
I see similarities with that Buckeye team, but I don’t buy the notion that the Irish only beat Alabama by pulling off a Buster Douglas or Rollie Massimino shocker. I know the experts in Vegas have opened the line with Bama more than a TD favorite, but I just don’t see this Alabama team as invincible, or close to it.
Notre Dame’s season has been very similar to that Ohio State team, and both teams relied on a very physical defense. Yet while both are facing what many deem to be dominating opponents, the matchups are very different. That Miami team was loaded with NFL talent at the skill positions, but they cruised through the season without facing a physically dominating defense. When they faced Ohio State, the Buckeye defensive line manhandled an average Miami offensive line and thus controlled the game. Ken Dorsey was exposed as a mediocre quarterback as soon as he faced a pass rush and took some brutal hits.
With Alabama, the matchup is completely different. It’s really strength against strength, as Alabama has an awesome offensive line that now has to face a big and powerful defense. They’ve seen similar defenses in the SEC, but now we’ll see just how good Notre Dame’s defense can be.
Louisiana State University running back Spencer Ware (L) celebrates his touchdown run against the University of Oregon with center T-Bob Hebert (C) and offensive tackle Chris Faulk in the second half of their NCAA football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas September 3, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
College football guru Bruce Feldman is now with CBS Sports following his controversial treatment by ESPN and ultimate departure. Bruce sums up this weekend’s college football action by noting the bad day for the Pac-12, at least on the field. off the field the conference might be on the verge of adding Texas and Oklahoma, further shaking up the crazy world off college football.
Chip Kelly has a dynamic offense, but it is seeming more and more like the frenetic Ducks attack that looks so, well, awesome in league play wilts when it goes up against power teams from other leagues, or at least teams with added prep time. (See: the 2009 opener at Boise; the 2010 Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State; the 2011 BCS title game against Auburn; and now Saturday night’s game against an LSU team that still had to replace an All-American DT [Drake Nevis] and the best defensive back in college football [Patrick Peterson]).
Kelly’s star, running back LaMichael James, who was held to just 54 yards rushing and 3.8 yards per carry against Auburn, managed 57 yards and fewer than 3.2 yards per rush against LSU. The most telling stats for the night, though, were these: Oregon had 28 carries and none went longer than 13 yards; and on 82 plays, the Ducks didn’t have any go for more than 18. That sounds so anti-Oregon. In fairness, we should note that the Ducks did travel into SEC country last year and blow out Tennessee, but those Vols were one of the worst teams in the SEC in 2010.
Kelly pointed out before the game that those teams that handled Oregon are great ones, well-coached and stocked with outstanding athlete. He echoed that point, again, after losing to LSU: “They’ve got a little bit different athlete running around out there right now,” he told Ted Miller. “Looking at their D-line, standing next to them, walking off the field, they don’t look like the kind of guys we see. That’s the common trait, the trait you saw in the Auburn game.”
As blunt as that is, that’s still not the kind of talk you’d expect to hear from the coach of a powerhouse program.
There a gimmicky element to what Kelly has been able to accomplish at Oregon. Sure, they’re a great team, but everyone gets caught up in the stats they rack up and their quick scoring ability, but the harsh reality is that their system comes up short against physical defenses with tough d-lines. It will be interesting to see if they can adjust, but in today’s idiotic BCS system, the chances are now much slimmer that they will get a chance to redeem themselves.
If we had a rational system, Oregon could get back to work and focus on running the table so they could be one of the final eight teams in the season-ending playoff system. Instead, we’ll have to listen to the talking heads on TV drone on endlessly about how they might squeak into the BCS title game if x, y and z occur.