The SEC is the best conference in college football, of course, and Alabama is the best team in that conference, but Notre Dame won't be intimidated this matchup.
The Irish played a schedule that was balanced and tough, and seemed to be peaking late in the season. Notre Dame will be more than a touchdown underdog to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game, but if anyone tells you how the Crimson Tide will run all over the Irish, don't listen. This should be a close game. And Notre Dame can win it.
Notre Dame has tested itself against good competition just about every week. Of its 12 opponents, 10 won at least six games required for bowl eligibility (Miami, at 7-5, won't go to a bowl but that's because it took itself out of consideration). The only two teams the Irish faced this season that didn't win six games are Boston College and Wake Forest, which are at least from major conferences. Notre Dame didn't play a Western Carolina or Florida Atlantic this season, and it still went 12-0. Alabama played six teams this season that aren't bowl eligible, for comparison's sake.
The Irish also has shown it can play a top team as a big underdog and win convincingly. Notre Dame was a 10.5-point favorite going into Oklahoma, which is going to a BCS game if Northern Illinois doesn't sneak into the top 16 and take that berth from the Sooners (and there seems to be a chance the Huskies could do just that). And Notre Dame went to Norman and pounded Oklahoma 30-13. Oklahoma isn't as good as Alabama, but a 17-point win on the road against a 10-2 team that is currently 11th in the BCS standings shows the Irish can play with anyone. So does an overtime win against a Stanford team that is going to the Rose Bowl - and might be in the BCS title game had it beat Notre Dame.
The reason Notre Dame is legitimately an elite team is its defense. The Irish defense is as good as any in the country, even those that play in the SEC. Notre Dame allowed 10 touchdowns in 12 games, and again, the Irish played a bowl-eligible team just about every week. No other team allowed fewer than 17 touchdowns, and only five teams allowed fewer than 20. Notre Dame finished fourth in the FBS in rushing defense, so Alabama won't have the kind of rushing lanes it had against Georgia. Notre Dame's defense will give Alabama some problems.
Also, the Irish were on an uptick as the season went on. A large part of that is the offense was better. And not coincidentally, that happened as quarterback Everett Golson took a step forward.
Since the point Golson threw a fourth-quarter interception against Pitt, he has six touchdowns and one interception. He showed poise in leading the Irish back after that interception, and a light seemed to turn on for him after that. He averaged 254.3 passing yards over his last three games, and averaged 9.5 yards per attempt. Only Georgia's Aaron Murray averaged better than 9.5 yards per attempt over the season. Golson looked more confident late in the season, like a sophomore should, and has a month to get ready for Alabama's stellar defense.
This isn't to say Notre Dame will definitely beat Alabama for the national title on Jan. 7. But it would be unwise to rule out the possibility.
Check back with Dr. Saturday throughout the day for more bowl news, analysis and previews as the postseason schedule takes shape.
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