It’s finally here. All of college football and the rest of the country will be tuning in tonight to watch #1 Notre Dame take on #2 Alabama for all the marbles. The TV ratings will be massive, too, and we anticipate records to be broken. The Irish lore comes face to face with a full-fledged dynasty in the Crimson Tide. This is great for college football. Let’s get some predictions…
I’m taking Alabama to win the Natty, not because I’m an SEC homer or because I think Notre Dame doesn’t belong in this game, because they do. The Irish are built like an SEC team with a big and physical front seven on defense and multiple 200-pound running backs toting the rock. They’re worthy of all the accolades they’ve received. The Irish are talented and very well coached. It’s tough running the table in any conference, and it’s a credit to their leadership, talent and coaching staff.
But you look at the quarterbacks that have beaten Nick Saban in recent history: Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel. (Don’t forget about Jordan Jefferson, right? I don’t see a 9-6 ballgame tonight.) In order for the Irish to win, freshman QB Everett Golson must take his game from being a manager to an impact player. He’ll have to make explosive plays in the passing game, something he’s done in only two or three games this season, as well as keep drives alive and convert crucial third downs with his legs. He has the opportunity to do it on college football’s biggest stage, though, and lead the Irish over the Tide. He’ll have to be dynamic running and throwing. Do you think he has it in him? Count me as thinking he doesn’t. Nick Saban will make it hard on the freshman Golson.
Likewise, Notre Dame’s margin for error is so slim compared to Bama’s. The Irish will have to play their best game of the season. Bama can afford to take some shots and make some mistakes, while the Irish can’t. Nick Saban knows that, and it’s one of the biggest advantages the Tide possesses. In addition, the Irish haven’t exactly scored touchdowns when in the red zone. The Tide also have much better offensive red zone numbers than do the Irish.
Lastly, while the Tide’s running game gets all the hype, AJ McCarron will make some plays tonight through the air on play action. He’s done it all season; he’ll do it again. McCarron is experienced and has been on college football’s biggest stage before; he’s a winner, and his experience is invaluable. Expect freshman receiver Amari Cooper to make some explosive plays (20-plus yards) on play action.
I see a very low scoring game in the first half, with the Tide opening things up in the second half.
Alabama will cover the 9.5-point spread.
Alabama 24, Notre Dame 10
I think the fact that Alabama has struggled in a few games this season (LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia) means that they’re ready to battle in a close game. This will help them tonight, as I expect the Irish to battle to the end. I actually think both offenses will move the ball despite the fact that the defenses get much of the attention with these teams.
The Notre Dame offense will use their sick tight end, go up-tempo at times, and Golston will make some plays with his legs. I think the Alabama defense is vulnerable as we’ve seen at times this year, and Notre Dame will absolutely be in this game.
On the positive side, the Alabama offense should also do very well especially in the passing game. A few big plays from McCarron to Cooper may be all it takes to win this game. McCarron needs to make some plays to win tonight; he will need to be more than just a game manager.
While an upset tonight wouldn’t be surprising to me, I can’t bet against Saban. Though, I think this game is close and could go down to a final possession. If it does, expect some TV ratings records to be set. In the end, I have the Tide winning by a little.
Alabama 24, Notre Dame 23
Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports