19.5. That is how many points Alabama is favored by against the Irish. In 2018, their first appearance in the CFP, in the Cotton Bowl, Notre Dame was a 11.5 point underdog. In the 2015 Fiesta Bowl, the Irish were 3.5 point underdogs. In the 2012 BCS title game the Irish were +10 point underdogs. The 2006 Sugar Bowl saw the Notre Dame at +8 points. The Fiesta Bowl in 2005 saw Notre Dame as a 4.5 point underdog. The 2000 Fiesta Bowl saw Notre Dame as a 3.0 point underdog. The Irish have not been favored in any of the BCS or College Football Playoff/New Year’s Six bowl games and they have only been competitive in one of the six games. They have also been outscored by 232-88 in those six games.
However, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is correct in what he has said leading up to this year’s Rose Bowl and CFP Semifinal matchup with Alabama. Notre Dame is always right there competing. The fact they made it to 6 BCS title game/New Year’s Six/College Football Playoff games is no easy task and only a few teams have managed to accomplish that. Not to mention the fact that 2005 and 2006 were back to back appearances and that made 3 appearances in major bowl games in 7 years. The Irish lacked consistency in between these matchups at times and in bowl games overall until 2008.
The narrative was then that the Irish could not compete with college football’s current elite teams. However, as the Irish hired Brian Kelly, they have, once again, placed themselves within those elite teams. Brian Kelly has led the Irish to defeat SEC teams with star players like LSU and Leonard Forunette and Darius Guice on separate occasions. They lost very close games to Georgia, which showed the days of being blown out against top competition are not here to stay. He even led the Irish to toppling the #1 team in the country (at the time). Notre Dame has made progress in being consistent once again and that is a fact.
Despite this, as Kelly himself mentioned, the losses are there. Although this year, he is attempting to make sure the players are not focused on ending this streak or putting added pressure on themselves. This game and the stakes are important enough and he does not want them adding history and losses of players of the past having an impact on their mental and physical performance. I completely agree with this as well and I loved the statement from Kelly.
On the other side, Alabama has become the new dynasty of college football again. Notre Dame has had their run and Alabama has had its run before. Now they are back again. They appeared in the BCS title game 3 times and won all three, and six BCS bowl games overall losing those 3 (2 Sugar Bowls and 1 Orange Bowl). In the CFP era, they are 6-3 (semifinals and finals) with 4 title game appareances and 2 championships. That gives the Tide 5 championships and 15 major bowl game appearances during the same span.
They have also seen 2 Heisman winners during this time and will most likely be adding a third by the season’s end. To Brian Kelly’s point, enough of the history. Let’s take a look at the 2020 Rose Bowl/CFP semifinal matchup between Notre Dame and Alabama.
As stated in our previous discussion about the CFP as a whole, Alabama has scored just under 50 points per game this season and had a stellar defense once again. They are led by Devonta Smith at wide receiver, Najee Harris in the backfield, and Mac Jones at quarterback. Out of all the receivers to recently come from Alabama, Smith seems to be the best. Over his four years, he has caught the game-winning touchdown in the CFP title game against Georgia and his career has taken off. He is currently a front-runner for the Heisman with 98 catches for 1,511 yards and 17 touchdowns. Mac Jones has taken care of the ball well for the Crimson Tide and Najee Harris has come into his own running the football. He has provided balance to this Alabama offense that many wondered they could continue to sustain. They have done just that and are once again challenging for a championship.
Notre Dame is back for the second time in three years now and is looking to continue their successful season and end it with a championship. Recently the Irish have had successful seasons passing the football (DeShone Kizer and Will Fuller) and successful seasons running the football (Josh Adams and Dexter Williams). This year, the Irish seem to finally have a balanced attack. Kyren Williams has rushed for over 1,000 yards and was a top rusher in the ACC this year. Ian Book did not turn the ball over as much this year and threw for over 2,600 yards. Critics have said that the lack of touchdown passes shows an inability to put up points and move the football effectively. That is not the case. The Irish can keep up with anyone in the country. The issue is redzone touchdowns. Alabama has scored 46 touchdowns in the redzone and 9 field goals in 60 redzone trips, while the Irish have scored only 33 touchdowns and 11 field goals on 56 trips. Missed opportunities and settling for field goals have always plagued the Irish and finally did this year in the ACC championship game. Tomorrow afternoon is an opportunity for the Irish to correct hose mistakes and do what they have done throughout 2020: win games.
Notre Dame is an underdog coming into this game. I believe they would have been even if they had defeated Clemson a second time, but it would be closer spread. Alabama is in the way again and the Irish must once again stop the run in order to be successful. They can slow down Smith and ensure he does not score 4 touchdowns. However, they cannot let their defense ignore the run. Doing this will allow Alabama to have the balanced attack they have had all year. This will lead to a similar result that Irish fans witnessed two weeks ago. The Irish need to stop the run and play press coverage with some saftey help at times in order to make the Crimson Tide one dimensional. On the offensive side of the ball, they need to establish a run game and not stick to screen plays. They need to push the ball to the line to gain and move the ball efficiently. They need to play aggressive. Should they do this, I believe they will win this football game. Alabama needs to take away the run and take away the tight ends of Notre Dame. Doing this will leave Ian Book with no option but to force throws in order to move the ball or throw the ball away. It will allow Alabama to dominate the game.
I believe the Irish will win this game. As a fan I have to. All of this progress, and taking the pressure of past results off of the current players shoulders should allow them to play a much better game than we saw two weeks ago. I believe they will come out and play hard similar to recent performacnes against Georgia and Clemson (the first game). Notre Dame will at least be competitive in this game and I believe they will win the 2020 Rose Bowl.
Happy New Year!
Featured Image Via: ESPN Press Room
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