10 reasons Notre Dame will win it all
Gene Wojciechowski [ARCHIVE]
ESPN.com | January 7, 2013
MIAMI -- Before Alabama followers make the pilgrimage to Tuscaloosa for the national championship parade route, they might want to consider the worst-case scenario.
Ten reasons that parade might be in South Bend …
Notre Dame's defensive and offensive linemen have just about had it with these kinds of questions:
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame won't just bow down to Alabama's linemen like D.J. Fluker.
"When you watch game tape of Alabama's offensive line, do you weep uncontrollably and reach for a Binky?"
"Should the U.S. Postal Service issue a commemorative stamp in honor of Alabama's offensive line?"
"Talk about your own insignificance when compared to Alabama's offensive line. And as a follow-up, should Bama's offensive line have been asked to broker a more palatable fiscal cliff compromise between the president and Congress?"
Make no mistake, the Crimson Tide O-line of tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker, guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen and center Barrett Jones is worthy of its own instructional DVD. But it isn't impenetrable (six sacks by Western Kentucky, three by Georgia, two by Texas A&M, Florida Atlantic, Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi State). And there are rare times when it scuffles a bit.
Notre Dame's players have said all the right things, but behind the forced smiles and public compliments there has to be a simmering resentment of the praise heaped on Bama's O-line. I'm not saying the Tide players don't deserve it. I'm saying the Irish's D-line is upper-echelon SEC quality. I'm saying I wouldn't want to spend my football Saturdays trying to block the front three of Kapron Lewis-Moore, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, or linebackers Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Manti Te'o and Danny Spond.
Anyway, ND's defense is ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, touchdown defense and red zone TD percentage. That doesn't happen because you've got a snappy fight song.
And do you think Notre Dame's offensive line isn't doing a slow simmer as America genuflects at the mention of those Bama linemen?
2. About that red zone defense ...
Ever read the four volumes written by Robert Caro on the life and times of President Lyndon B. Johnson? Here at the Discover BCS National Championship, we sportswriters call that, "clearing your throat."
ND's red zone defense has to be the leader in the word-count clubhouse when it comes to pregame X's and O's topics. And can you blame us?
Notre Dame has given up the lowest percentage of red zone touchdowns (24.2) of any FBS team in the past nine seasons. The Irish have forced almost as many turnovers in the red zone (five) as they've given up touchdowns (eight).
USC and Stanford can provide more personal details, especially when it comes to goal-to-go situations. In all, ND has given up minus-5 yards (this is not a misprint) on 39 of those kind of plays. Geez, what a surprise they're No. 1 in the nation in that category.
This is another strength-on-strength matchup in the game (Bama's offense is No. 1 in the SEC on goal-to-go situations), but I like the Irish's chances. Remember, two of the three interceptions thrown by AJ McCarron this season were on goal-to-go downs.
3. Motivation -- Part II
When the Notre Dame-versus-Bama matchup became a BCS championship reality, the smart guys in Vegas made the Tide an 8½-point favorite. Since then, without doing a thing, Bama has become a 9½-point fave.
Meanwhile, the Irish have to double-check the BCS standings, the polls and the win/loss categories to make sure they're not really Ball State. Yep, there it is: Notre Dame is No. 1 in the BCS, No. 1 in both polls and the only undefeated team in Monday night's BCS Championship Game.
If you think this burns Notre Dame's biscuits, you're right. Bama is getting all the respect, while the Irish are moving toward double-digit betting dogs.
Little things matter in big games. Motivation matters in big games. Here's guessing ND coach Brian Kelly has mentioned the underdog status to his players. And will again.
4. Nick Saban versus Kelly
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Brian Kelly is no slouch in the coaching department.
Bama's Saban deserves any and every accolade he's received. What he has done at Tuscaloosa (and LSU before that) is beyond remarkable. Keep winning these championships, and he's going to need toe rings.
But Kelly didn't just fall off the equipment truck. He has transformed the Irish program from has-been to national somebody again. He and his staff know how to win big games.
From top to bottom of the roster, Notre Dame might have less talent than Bama. But anybody who thinks Kelly is the automatic unequal of Saban on the sideline hasn't been paying attention this season.
5. History lesson
Just a few reminders that upsets do happen:
In the 2009 Sugar Bowl, Utah was a 9½-point underdog to Bama (hey, just like Notre Dame is this year) and won 31-17.
And here are some other underdog bowl results of interest from the most wonderful time of the year:
Louisville 33, Florida 23 … SMU 43, Fresno State 10 … Syracuse 38, West Virginia 14 … Georgia Tech 21, USC 7 … Clemson 25, LSU 24.
6. Hello, my name is Tyler Eifert
Eifert is 6-foot-6, 251 pounds, runs like his cleats are on fire and pretty much gives safeties, cornerbacks and linebackers facial tics. If there is one matchup in which Notre Dame has a decided one-on-one edge, Eifert versus Anybody Bama Puts On Him is that matchup.
Bama's defensive backs are on the slightly larger side, but Eifert still has a significant height and weight advantage. And the Tide probably don't want a linebacker trying to shadow Eifert, who played wide receiver in high school at times -- and is split out by ND in some of its formations.
OK, so let's say Bama uses some bracket coverages on Eifert. Fine. But that creates some other opportunities for Notre Dame's offense.
But Eifert's real value is in the red zone, where his physical advantages make him a living, breathing nightmare to cover. (Can you say "corner fade route" or "jump ball situation?"
7. Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Could Everett Golson pull a Johnny Manziel and upset Alabama?
Uh, no. But there are similarities between Notre Dame second-year quarterback Everett Golson and Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, who led the Aggies past Bama in Tuscaloosa and later won a Heisman Trophy based partly on that victory.
Golson can stretch a defense with his ability to run. Golson can make all the throws. Golson has made a quantum leap from Game 1 Everett to Game 12 Golson. Turn on the game tape of the 30-13 win at Oklahoma in late October, and you'll see what I mean.
Manziel's mobility, quickness and playmaking ability created problems for Bama's defense. Golson can do the same thing.
Can Golson, who at times earlier this season was pulled for backup Tommy Rees, handle the pressure of the BCS championship moment? Right now, everything is trending that way.
The 40-plus-day prep time is going to help Golson. And there's no question he and Kelly are finally on the same playbook page. The sometimes meek, unsure Golson who started the season has been replaced by a confident, game-tested Golson.
Golson's most impressive performances have come on the road and against good teams (at Michigan State, at Oklahoma, at USC). And hey, McCarron won a national championship as a sophomore, so why can't Golson?
8. SEC bruise marks
I'm an SEC honk. I make no apologies for it. When in doubt, take the SEC team.
But if the bowl season is any indication, the SEC has some soft spots. No. 3 Florida lost. No. 8 LSU lost. Mississippi State lost. No. 10 South Carolina needed a medium-sized, last-minute passing miracle to beat Michigan by five. (Although it was a cool scoring play, wasn't it?)
In all, the SEC is 5-3 in bowl games. Good, but not SEC good.
And at some point, the law of averages catches up with the SEC, right? It can't keep winning every BCS championship, can it?
Right now the SEC streak is six consecutive BCS titles and counting. Bama has won two of the past three.
But maybe, just maybe, the SEC doesn't have the same muscle mass that it's had in previous years.
9. Advantage ND
I don't want to call them weak spots -- because they aren't. You don't do what Bama has done this season with multiple weaknesses.
But if you asked the staunchest Roll Tider where Bama could be exploited, he/she would say the secondary and at the wide receiver position.
Georgia's Aaron Murray completed 7 of 14 passes of 15 yards or longer against Alabama in the SEC championship. In the past five games, Tide opponents have completed 50 percent of passes on plays 15 yards or longer.
I'm just saying.
And don't get me wrong on Bama's wide receivers. I'm sweet on the starters, especially Amari Cooper. But the Tide are paper-maché -thin at the position. One tweaked ankle, etc., and that instantly would put Bama in a compromised spot.
Sure, it's corny. It's a total cliché . But tell me the part where it isn't true when it comes to Notre Dame this season.
The Irish were unranked in the AP poll at season's beginning. Now they're No. 1. Michigan State was supposed to beat them. Oklahoma was supposed to beat them. Surprise!
If you believe in such things as destiny, then you have to believe in Notre Dame. Every time someone has said the Irish can't do something, they've done it.
The Irish are football irrelevant. … Golson might be overmatched. … There's no way they get through this schedule without at least three losses. … The secondary can't recover from injuries. … Kelly can't adapt. ...
Blah, blah, blah.