Bowl Picks: The Crystal Football
DISCOVER BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
ALABAMA (12-1) vs NOTRE DAME (12-0): You went unbeaten. You beat nine bowl teams. You knocked off three Top 20 teams and one of those teams went on to win the Rose Bowl. You survived a pair of overtime games with a victory in each. You finished with the top-ranked scoring defense in the nation – a unit led by All-American linebacker Manti Te’o, the Heisman runner-up. And yet, you are roughly an an 8.5 point underdog in the title game. What’s a growing Irish boy to do?
Brian Kelly’s squad allowed just 2 rushing touchdowns all season and eleven times in 12 games Notre Dame held the opposition to 17 or fewer points, but despite all that the 800-pound Crimson gorilla known as Alabama enters this title bout with the Irish as a heavy favorite. Of course they do. Over the last half-decade, Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide have developed into college football’s unstoppable downhill express, winning 61 of their last 68 games dating back to the end of 2007 and hoisting the BCS crystal football twice in the last three years.
Saban and company have been here before, and common logic might suggest that’s a good thing. But history doesn’t support that. Coaches making their first ever appearance in the BCS title – as Brian Kelly is tonight – have won 7 times in 8 tries.
Saban and A.J. McCarron (26 TD, 3 int.) – the nation’s 2nd most efficient passer - will be studying the Oklahoma matchup to see how Landry Jones threw for 364 on the Irish secondary. On the flipside, Kelly and his staff will be inspecting every angle of the Texas A&M game to see if they might be able to put elusive quarterback Everett Gholson (305 rush yards) in position to pull off some of the duel-threat chicanery that Heisman winner Johnny Manziel orchestrated in the Aggies upset win in Tuscaloosa when he gashed the Tide for 253 yards through the air and 92 more on the ground.
Either way, both offenses figure to have their hands full. Notre Dame and Alabama have allowed just 10 and 18 touchdowns all year, respectively – the lowest such totals in college football. Not only do these two teams possess the top two scoring defenses in the nation, they also boast 2 of the country’s top 3 red zone defenses. Alabama leads in this category overall (FGs and TDs combined) but perhaps more impressively Notre Dame has allowed a paltry 8 touchdowns in 33 red zone trips by its opponents.
Brian Kelly’s pedigree is that of an aerial enthusiast on the offensive side of the football and though this Notre Dame squad doesn’t often reflect that fact the Irish have played pitch-and-catch well enough when needed this year (324 passing yards in a narrow win against Purdue, 291 in a triple-OT win over Pitt and 363 in a blowout of Wake Forest). After watching the Tide get bled for 253 yards or more through the air 3 times in the last 5 games, Kelly will be game planning accordingly. If Irish QBs Golson and Tommy Rees (34 career TD passes) can avert a disastrous start against Kirby Smart’s defense (Bama has allowed just 2 TD passes against 11 int. in the first half this year), Notre Dame might be in business.
With points at a premium, the focus turns to the kickers – and that’s where the plot thickens. Bama’s Jeremy Shelley handles the kicking duties from inside 40 yards. Shelley is 44-55 (80%) in his career and has yet to miss in 2012 (11-11). The Tide’s long-range kicker, Cade Foster, has struggled – hitting on just 4-of-9 tries but he is 3-for-5 beyond 50 yards. Notre Dame sophomore Kyle Brindza, meanwhile, ranks 3rd in the country in field goals after connecting on 23-of-31 tries (74%) with a long of 52. Will it be Brindza’s toe that sends the Irish to BCS glory and snap the SEC’s streak of 6 straight titles? My looking glass says ‘yes.’ Notre Dame 19, Alabama 17
Lead Photo: Harry How/Getty Images