NCAAF 2013 National Title Game Pick:
To be honest, I'm rooting for Notre Dame. I think the SEC is on a low year with some notable losses in the postseason, and while I'd love to witness a dynasty, I'm hoping for something new. And there is so much good karma about this Notre Dame Fighting Irish team. First, Manti Te'o and the amazing person he has shown us to be. I don't think he deserved the Heisman (see below), but he deserved all the hype. Second, this Notre Dame team was the first football team to be ranked No. 1 in the country in the BCS and polls, as well as academically by graduation rate. This deserves recognition as ND is a quality school. Of course the NCAA didn't publicize this, but the school did (I found this info courtesy of ESPN's TMQ).
But despite all the positives going for this team, including its dynamic receivers, improving quarterback, and great defense, I have a feeling ND is going to have trouble for the following reasons:
1. ND's red zone defense. I know it's first in the nation. But the sample size is limited. Also, as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, the top two NFL by red zone TD % were Arizona and Miami. As in the Cardinals and the Dolphins. I know each had offensive issues that plagued the team, but it is a reminder that a single, simple stat does not always a story tell. While a lot of great teams have good defensive red zone TD %s, the worst in the NFL was the 2012 49ers (a year after leading the league). San Francisco made up for this by not allowing many teams into the red zone. Back to college: I think this stat means something, but it may not put ND over the top.
2. Notre Dame's defense overall. I know they have gaudy stats, like scoring defense. But look at their opponents. The two Michigan teams are hardly juggernauts. I would characterize both Michigan and Oklahoma as good bad teams; they beat bad teams handily, but don't belong among the good team club. Then you have the 26 points given to Pitt on a game the Irish were extremely fortunate to win. They gave up 4.6 yard per carry to a BYU running back playing for a 4-3 team without a QB. They've had impressive performances, but aren't would I would consider transcendent.
That's the biggest knock on them. I wouldn't compare them favorably to the Alabama defense of 2012 (I wouldn't compare this years Alabama squad to that either). They never astonished me with the way they could dominate the trenches. As good as he was, Manti Te'o was not a pre-eminent player. He covered ground well and had some nice stats (including interceptions, which are extremely lucky and low-sample in terms of number of passes defensed), but ultimately he plays one of the defense's most fungible positions and didn't do anything extraordinary. He never took over a game. I agree with many that Heisman voting focuses too much on star QBs and RBs, and not enough on guys in the trenches, but if a QB invigorated his team every offensive snap, had great statistics, and led his team to huge victories, he should win the Heisman (RBs are another story, should not win unless the season was truly breathtaking, something like 2,000+ yards and 20+ TDs, rushing stats are based mostly on offensive line play).
Anyway, I'm not convinced this year's Notre Dame defense is the stuff of legend, and as such, I think a very good Alabama offense has a shot, because of:
3. Center: Barrett Jones. Guards: Chance Warmack, Anthony Steen. Tackles: Cyrus Kouandjio, D.J. Fluker. These guys are for real and have great continuity.
RB: Eddie Lacy. I know, RBs are contingent on their blockers. You have that above. More than that, I think Eddie Lacy is better than Trent Richardson. Not will be. Is. The Crimson Tide leaned heavily on Lacy down the stretch last year, when Richardson was still on the team. He has come on strong of late, and I don't see him stopping tonight.
QB: A.J. McCarron. He has shown that teams must respect him, with the ability to avoid mistakes and yet make great, high percentage deep passes. He's no checkdown artist, and will have a big play in a key moment.
Like I said, I'm rooting for ND, so this pick may be an emotional hedge. I think the Irish have a real shot: Golson must avoid mistakes and the team overall must take advantage of opportunities: that means scoring TDs, not field goals, going for it when necessary, not missing FG opportunities when they come, not dropping passes, no confusion on blitz pickup. If they can do that, I think Golson has it in him to rally the team on a monster drive near the end. But at the same time, I have a sneaky suspicion this may not be close.
Alabama +9.5 over NOTRE DAME
ALA: 31, ND: 16
Eddie Lacy, MVP
2 Total Turnovers