Notre Dame plays Alabama for the college football title Monday evening. The game has been well-hyped and should receive a ton of attention and a high television rating (8 p.m. EST, ESPN). It’s a marquee matchup of two storied programs, yet I am somewhat amazed at how easily everyone seems to accept that this is the matchup.
Alabama, at 12-1, is a no-brainer, for sure. The defending national champions’ record suffered one blemish, at the hands of Johnny Football, but achieved sufficient redemption with a solid win over Georgia in the SEC title game. The Crimson Tide look big, strong and well-fed as ever—the classic amply funded, state-run football behemoth with the lordly head coach (Nick Saban) on his way to becoming a god.
Yet the Fightin' Irish, their 12-0 record notwithstanding, seem suspect. In fact, oddsmakers have installed 'Bama as a 9- or 10-point favorite (depending on your bookie).
Why would the #2 team be so solidly favored over the #1 team, you ask? Maybe it’s because ND’s perfect record might not withstand careful analysis. Their competition compiled an 86-68 record in 2012, including bowl games (55.8%). Not bad. But some of the team’s home victories make you wonder: Purdue, 20-17; Michigan, 13-6; Stanford, 20-13, in overtime; BYU, 17-14. You’d think the scores wouldn’t be that close under the Golden Dome on a clear Saturday afternoon in South Bend. For a #1 team, I mean—and contender for the national title.
The Nov. 3 game, versus Pitt, won by the Irish 29-26 in triple overtime, was a real puzzler, especially—given that the Panthers were 4-4, an obvious mediocrity who finished their regular season 6-6 and then got pounded by Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The Irish don’t dominate, then. But they’re a good story, and many college football fans are hoping they’ll show up Monday. That includes myself, of course, though I’ve wondered if maybe Oregon wouldn’t make a better opponent for ‘Bama. The formulas and numbers say otherwise, but one wonders if Notre Dame would've passed the simple eyeball test that basically used to determine these things.
Curiously, I’ve run into a few people locally who have expressed a kind of automatic animosity toward Notre Dame. But if the Irish were once upon a time a monolithic power that struck fear into heathens with their superstition-rich Catholic heritage and "win one for the Gipper" legendry—"Ru-dy, Ru-dy, Ru-dy, Ru-dy"—they’ve certainly been humbled in the past two decades, compiling comparatively modest records while valiantly striving to maintain their football independence in the face of the super-conference mindset. (And God bless ‘em for that. All the conference folderol of recent years drives me nuts.)
Notre Dame last won a national championship in 1988, and they haven’t otherwise realistically contended for a title since 1993. Now’s their time, and head coach Brian Kelly is the right guy (with the right name) to lead them on to the national stage.
I don’t see a miracle in the offing, but neither did the folks at Cana.