2013 BCS Championship
Alabama vs. Notre Dame
CFN 2013 BCS CHAMPIONSHIP POSITION BREAKDOWN
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BCS Championship Preview
Players to Watch: Johnny Manziel showed against Oklahoma that there wasn't going to be any Heisman baggage to carry around, but that was in the Cotton Bowl, not the BCS championship. As great as Johnny Football might have been, with the way he struggled in losses against LSU and Florida, as the leader and catalyst for a team playing for the national championship, an argument could still be made that Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o had an even better season.
Not only did Te'o tie for second in the nation in interceptions with seven, but he came up with 103 tackles as the star of a stellar run defense that didn't allow a rushing touchdown until the late October game against Oklahoma and gave up two scores on the ground all year. The Irish led the nation in scoring defense, and it all worked around Te'o, who'll have to do even more in Miami with the great Alabama offensive line likely to give the Notre Dame defensive front fits.
Sophomore left tackle Cyrus Kouandijio, senior left guard Chance Warmack, junior right guard Anthony Steen, right tackle D.J. Fluker and banged up center Barrett Jones form the best offensive line in America, even though it allows a few too many sacks and needs a little while to get heated up. All five are going to earn NFL paychecks for a long, long time, and all five should be far better after the long layoff. Jones, in particular, needed the time after suffering a sprained left foot, and while he's still hobbling a bit, he's expected to be more than fine.
How good and how strong is this group? Jones, Warmack and Fluker all earned first-team All-SEC honors, but Steen is the strongest of the bunch – and was the one the offense ran behind when push came to shove against Georgia – and Kouandijio is considered to have the most NFL upside of the entire bunch. It doesn't matter how much game-planning Notre Dame has done over the last month-and-a-half; there's no working around the Tide line if it gets into a lather.
However, it's not like the Irish front seven is going to be flattened. Yeah, Te'o had a phenomenal season and deserves all the accolades he received, but he also got to show off his improved range and top hitting ability because he was able to run free thanks to all the work done by the dominant defensive line. The Irish lost pass rushing sensation Aaron Lynch, who transferred before the season, and the D still finished 15th in the nation in sacks thanks to Stephon Tuitt, a quick playmaker for his 6-6, 303-pound size in the 3-4 alignment finishing with 12 sacks, 43 tackles, a fumble return for a score against Navy and a big blocked kick against Stanford.
6-4, 306-pound senior Kapron Lewis-Moore is like another tackle at the other end, and while he's not the same pass rusher as Tuitt, he can get into the backfield. 6-3, 326-pound Louis Nix III has been a terrific anchor who's tough to throw over and active enough to work his way behind the line from time to time.
Notre Dame will win if … Everett Golson has the game of his life – but Tommy Rees has to be at the ready.
Johnny Manziel won the Heisman because of what he did against Alabama. LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Georgia's Aaron Murray looked like NFL starters picking apart the Tide secondary. Notre Dame isn't going to be able to run like it wants to – Georgia only finished with 113 net yards despite Todd Gurley's 122 yards and two scores – so it's up to Golson to keep drives and plays alive by improvising and making things happen. While interceptions weren't a big problem this year, giving up just five, he can't be flustered by an Alabama defense that had over a month to figure out how to slow him down.
While he's mobile, he's not a Manziel or Denard Robinson when it comes to taking off, and he's not Mettenberger or Murray when it comes to driving his throws outside of the hash marks. Patience will be the key, but the problem is that he'll have to be creative and can't be afraid to take a sack or throw the ball away even though he'll want to make something happen. However, considering the problems that Robinson had in the opener and LSU's Jordan Jefferson had when the Tide had a chance to figure them out, watch out for Rees.
LSU's Les Miles famously stuck it out with Jefferson last year's BCS championship instead of giving Jarrett Lee a shot, even though the offense was inept and struggled just to get it across midfield. Brian Kelly won't make the same mistake. If the offense isn't going anywhere, Rees will get his chance after spending the year as a relief pitcher, helping to pull the Michigan, Purdue, Stanford and Pitt games out of the fire, and getting the call against BYU when Golson was banged up. Better off the bench than as a starter, he should be able to fire away for a few drives if needed.
Defensively, the Irish have to get consistent pressure on A.J. McCarron and can't let the deep routes develop. Deadly with time to operate, McCarron leads the nation in passing efficiency because the offense lets the running game take control, and then the big play deep springs open. Against Georgia, McCarron was sacked three times and was under pressure all game long, but when he had to have it, he connected with Amari Cooper for the key 45-yard touchdown pass. Notre Dame can't let him have the time to get comfortable – ever.
Alabama will win if … the defense can come up with takeaways. Notre Dame hasn't had a problem with mistakes and has been great in turnover margin, but the O gave away two picks against Michigan that kept the game tight. Against Pitt, the quarterbacks threw two interceptions as part of a three turnover day from the offense, and Stanford was able to come up with three fumble recoveries. The long layoff can't affect the Irish against a Tide defense that has destroyed teams with takeaways, especially early on this year, but the secondary has to be active and the defensive front has to go for the swipe. In a game like this, any turnover will be devastating, especially early on.
Alabama proved it could rally and come back from a rocky start, but it needs to come out roaring or else the Irish will think they have a shot. Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU all took the lead in their games against Alabama, setting the tone early and forcing the Tide offense to press just a bit. In a perfect world, Bama gets an early score, the defense settles in, and then the offensive line goes to work and hammers away for long, sustained drives. Alabama has the passing ability to press more than Notre Dame does – the Tide can mount a comeback against the Irish D far better than Notre Dame can against the Alabama D.
The return game also needs to be a plus. Alabama has a good punt returner in Christion Jones, and kickoff returns have been strong all year. Notre Dame has the weapons, but the return game has been awful and needs to produce and can't be stuck with 80+ yards to go. It's possible the Tide will tilt the field to one side.
What Will Happen: The warning signs are all there. Texas A&M and Ole Miss changed things up a bit, but the SEC has struggled a bit in some of the bigger bowls. Florida was awful in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville, and LSU was surprisingly mediocre in the Chick-fil-A in a tough loss to Clemson. Considering Alabama's struggles against the top teams late in the year, is this the 2003 Fiesta Bowl all over again? Is Notre Dame Ohio State, winning game after game by the skin of its teeth while getting little respect along the way? Is Alabama Miami, the defending national champion that seems a shoo-in to repeat?
The two teams are very, very similar in terms of physical styles and toughness, and the layoff shouldn't affect either one's ability to pound away. Neither one will take any big chances, and it's unlikely that either coaching staff will resort to a desperate trick play unless things are going wrong. Expect both teams to play a little rope-a-dope, not showing much of anything out of the gate and hoping to capitalize on a big break or good field position when the time comes.
Notre Dame will play well, and it could certainly come up with the win if Golson is fantastic and/or if the defense, particularly the secondary, plays like it has all season long, but there's a reason Alabama is back in the big game for a third time in four years and there's a reason why the SEC is playing for its seventh straight BCS championship. Alabama appears to be perfectly suited for the pressure of trying to repeat, and it has the right mix of talent, experience and humility to be ready to make history.
The Tide will win the turnover battle, be better at quarterback, and will get one big play out of the special teams to change the game around. It's going to be a fight, but once again Nick Saban, Alabama and the SEC will rule the world.
CFN Prediction: Alabama 26 … Notre Dame 13
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Alabama -9.5 O/U: 41.5
BCS Championship Game History
2012 Alabama 21, LSU 0
2011 Auburn 22, Oregon 19
2010 Alabama 37, Texas 21
2009 Florida 24, Oklahoma 14
2008 LSU 38, Ohio State 24
2007 Florida 41, Ohio State 14