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Published: Monday, 1/7/2013

COMMENTARY

Leprechaun picking The Tide: OMG!

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Not many expect Notre Dame to win the BCS national championship tonight. I know this because of a very scientific study.

At lunch the other day, one diner suggested everybody throw in a dollar, rip off a piece of placemat and write down the winning team and a score. The most accurate prognosticator will realize a windfall of eight U.S. dollars.

(Judging by the placemat and the payoff, you can guess this lunch bunch doesn’t meet at Georgio’s.)

RELATED ARTICLE: Alabama, Notre Dame to decide BCS championship

Anyway, the seven gents and one lady on hand all picked Alabama. This includes a guy who was wearing a sweatshirt that said “IRISH” across the front and another whose face screams “IRISH” and looks a bit like a leprechaun and is old enough to have lived when Knute Rockne lived.

And, of course, it included me. And, of course, me is having second thoughts.

This game will match one of the most prolific red-zone offenses against the best red-zone defense in the nation. If you are among those who likes the cliché that defense wins championships, then Notre Dame stands a chance.

Does that surprise you?

Did you simply presume based on reputation that the defense of which we speak belongs to Alabama?

Notre Dame’s opponents have snapped 58 red-zone plays — those are plays that begin at or inside the 20 yard line — and have netted 56 yards this season. According to ESPN Stats and Info, 39 of those plays have come in goal-to-go situations and the Irish defense stiffened to the tune of minus-28 rushing yards, minus-5 total yards, and merely one rushing touchdown.

That is one of just two rushing TDs the Domers have allowed from anywhere on the field in 12 previous games.

Those numbers are so staggering as to be unheard of. Each and every one of them ranks No. 1 among FBS defenses.

The formula probably isn’t this simple, but a 326-pound nose guard named Louis Nix III takes on blockers galore and clears the path for a Heisman Trophy-finalist linebacker, Manti Te’o, to seal the deal.

Granted, if there is a power-oriented running game equipped to negate Notre Dame’s stingy defense it belongs to Alabama.

The Tide has an NFL-type offensive line, two 1,000-yard rushers, and has torched opponents for exactly 500 points.

The red zone? Alabama has scored 41 touchdowns on 57 visits, 30 of them coming on the ground. Roll Tide, indeed.

So, this should be interesting. A defense that stops against an offense that doesn’t. That’s where it should be decided.

Some will say that Alabama coach Nick Saban is all but unbeatable when given 35 days to prepare his team for an opponent, but that would be unfair to Brian Kelly who has the Irish poised for a return to glory.

Some might point to Notre Dame’s schedule, but have you looked at ‘Bama’s? The Irish will take Navy, Boston College, and Wake Forest and raise the Tide a Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, and Western Carolina.

If there is a run/run defense standoff in the red zone it will perhaps come down to quarterback play and here, I think, Alabama might find its edge.

A.J. McCarron, the offensive MVP of last year’s BCS title game when the Tide squashed LSU, has had the kind of season that demands more attention than it has received. He leads the nation in pass efficiency with 26 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.

With that in mind, I’ll stick with Alabama, close, very close, in what some expect to be the most watched college football game ever.

After all, I need the eight bucks.

But a Notre Dame win would not be shocking.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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