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.
Here’s a great clip of Texas A&M’s Deshazor Everett’s game clinching interception vs No. 1 Alabama last Saturday. The Aggies beat a solid but over-rated Alabama team to shake up the BCS standings. Now the SEC is looking at the possibility of not being included in the National Championship game, and the whining has already begun.
Before fans of the three undefeated teams call their congressmen, let’s be clear that we’re not suggesting that a one-loss Tide or Bulldogs squad jump over any of them, provided they finish unbeaten. Even though Alabama would likely be favored on a neutral field over all three teams, going undefeated in a major conference—or in the Irish’s case against a major-conference schedule—must be rewarded. (Sorry Louisville, but running the table in the Big East wasn’t going to cut it this year even before Saturday’s loss to Syracuse.)
But if two among the trio of the Ducks, Wildcats and Irish lose in the season’s final weeks, a one-loss Alabama or Georgia team needs to be next in line. Frankly, any title game that doesn’t include the SEC’s best wouldn’t feel as legitimate.
To be the “real” champ, you need to beat the champ. Until some other conference hoists the crystal trophy, that metaphorical championship belt resides in the SEC. Winning a BCS title without beating an SEC team would be like winning an NBA title while an in-his-prime Michael Jordan was off shagging fly balls. (Deep down, Houston Rockets fans know this is true.)
That’s a load of bull. The SEC has benefited from the idiotic BCS system that only let two teams play for the National Championship. Many excellent teams were denied the opportunity to play in the final game, most notably last year when Oklahoma State had to sit by and watch two SEC teams play for the title. The system is so flawed it’s ridiculous, and that’s even before we get into the oversignings and other shenanigans that make the SEC look like a semi-pro league.
So get over yourself. In a couple of years, we’ll at least have a four-team playoff so the whole system will be a little more fair, but let’s not pretend that a final game without the SEC somehow cheapens a system that already sucks.
Univesity of Alabama running back Trent Richardson (3) tries to break away from the South Carolina defensive including Stephon Gilmore (5), Antonio Allen (26) and Chaun Gresham (29) during their NCAA college football game in Columbia,South Carolina October 9, 2010. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
An annual tradition in the south is the second-to-last week of the regular season, where many SEC teams get another filling of cupcakes. Why this happens, I’m not sure. But it does, and since the SEC conference slate is so challenging, nobody ever says anything about it.
The fact that the SEC teams usually romp their foes also helps in keeping any national attention off of them. Today, however, wasn’t the SEC’s finest day. Even though none of their teams were upset, none looked all that great against teams you normally only hear about in the first two weeks of September.
Florida defeated Furman 54-32, but needed a 17-0 fourth quarter to do so. Alabama and its vaunted defense gave up more points than it had all season (21) to Georgia Southern, and had a 24-14 halftime lead. Auburn clung to a 14-10 halftime lead against Samford before winning 35-16.
These results shouldn’t be considered high crimes, as every team should be afforded a bad day throughout the season as long as it can hold on and win. But one has to wonder what the national conversation would be if any of the other automatic qualifier conferences would have had a similar day. My guess is there would have been plenty of bashing.
It certainly would have hurt the case for any of those leagues to possibly have two teams in the national championship game. Not the SEC, however, which will come out of this completely unscathed.
And while we’re here, the idea of a rematch for the national title is absurd for several reasons. First off, Alabama’s loss to LSU will essentially mean nothing. The Crimson Tide can get to the title game despite not winning their division, having a loss at home, and possibly owning a single win against a ranked opponent (Arkansas) if Penn State can’t remain in the top 25.
Do I think Alabama and LSU are the country’s top two teams? Yes, actually, I do. But I — and a lot of others — thought Ohio State and Michigan were the top two teams in 2006, and that didn’t turn out so well. The point is, we’ll never know thanks to the absence of a playoff and weak schedules (outside of LSU) that don’t give us an idea how the conferences stack up against each other.
Louisiana State University quarterback Jordan Jefferson (L) crack up with teammate center back Tyrann Mathieu after beating the University of Kentucky at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana October 1, 2011. Jefferson was just released from suspension by LSU this week. REUTERS/Dan Anderson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
Defense and kickers, that’s what might have just decided the national championship. LSU survived a 9-6 overtime slugfest tonight against Alabama in a matchup of the top two teams in the country.
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it was bad football. Quite the contrary, actually. These are two defenses unlike many we’ve seen in college football, and that’s fun to watch. They’re big, they’re fast and they’re physical. And let’s remember, when these two teams aren’t playing each other, the offenses do just fine.
The key in this one wound up being Alabama’s ineptitude in overtime, as the Tide went backwards and were forced to try a 52-yard field goal, which missed, um, poorly. LSU merely had to run the ball and set up a field goal on its possession, and it did, kicking a 25-yard game winner from the center of the field.
But A.J. McCarron struggled all game long, and Nick Saban showed late the lack of confidence he had in his quarterback by not calling a timeout with a little less than 2 minutes left and LSU set to punt it away. A coach that’s confident in his quarterback and offense calls that timeout and gives them a chance to drive for a game-winning field goal. Saban sat on his timeout and played for overtime.
Now, unless there aren’t any unbeaten teams remaining, there’s no chance we get a rematch here, nor should we. While I feel these are the country’s two top teams, they’re certainly not unbeatable, not with those quarterbacks. If either team runs into a situation where its defense is struggling against a good team, it’s in a lot of trouble. Do you trust McCarron, Jarrett Lee or Jordan Jefferson to bring a team back at the end of a game? I don’t.
That said, would you bet on either defense failing? I wouldn’t.
Louisiana State University head coach Les Miles (R) talks with field judge Ed Kierce during the second half of the NCAA Cotton Bowl football game in Arlington, Texas January 7, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
LSU may have come into tonight’s game with Oregon missing its starting quarterback and wide receiver because of suspensions, but that didn’t matter. The LSU defense and special teams were more than enough in LSU’s 40-27 win.
It’s a real nice victory for LSU and the SEC (again). It’s a tough loss for Oregon, which is about to get the Ohio State label draped on it when it comes to big games. The Ducks, as it turns out, aren’t that difficult to defend if you have some time to prepare for them.
In their last three big-time nonconference games — Ohio State, Auburn and LSU — the Ducks offense hasn’t been anywhere near the explosive unit that it is during the season. People that are smarter than I am on Twitter claim it’s because what Oregon does is actually pretty simple, and when you have the athletes to match up with it, all you have to do is play assignment football.
That being said, shutting down Oregon is quite an accomplishment, and LSU’s defense won’t face many offenses that are more explosive. They’ll face different and more balanced offenses (Darron Thomas is woefully inadequate in the passing game), but not many that can do what the Ducks can.
It plays in the SEC West, so LSU has a hell of a lot of work to do in order to play for the title this year, but this was a huge hurdle, especially considering the suspensions. It was an even bigger hurdle for the SEC, which may have just guaranteed itself a spot in the title game again.