The end of the 2012 NCAA Football season has arrived and the last teams standing at the end are #1 Notre Dame and #2 Alabama. It has been two very different stories for these two teams as they worked their way through the season arriving in Miami, FL to play for the BCS National Championship on January 7th, 2013. Notre Dame began the season ranked 24th in the USA Today poll but not even appearing on the AP Top 25 in preseason. Slowly they worked their way to #1 and a 12-0 record. Alabama was ranked #2 in the preseason and stayed in the top five all season. Their 12-1 record earned them a spot in the national championship after they beat Georgia 32-28 in the SEC Championship. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish has not won a national title since 1988, while the Crimson Tide is looking to win their third national title in four years. Alabama is the defending champion.
Despite Notre Dame’s #1 ranking, Alabama is favored to win this game with a 10 point spread and the over/under is 41.5 points. That predicts a score of about 26-16 for Alabama
These are the two best defenses in the country. Fittingly Notre Dame is the #1 defense and Alabama is the #2 defense. Notre Dame has allowed an average of 10.3 points a game and Alabama has allowed an average of 10.7 points a game. But the Irish have LB Manti Te’o who was a Heisman candidate this year; he has 7 interceptions and 101 tackles this season. Overall, Alabama has 17 interceptions and Notre Dame has 16 interceptions. But Notre Dame has 34 sacks and Alabama has 33 sacks. Against ranked opponents, Notre Dame has allowed a total of 35 points over 4 games. Alabama has allowed 95 points over 5 games to ranked opponents. The average ranking of teams that Alabama played was 5th; while the average ranking that Notre Dame played was about 12th. Both teams played Michigan, Alabama won 41-14 and Notre Dame won 13-6. The best team that Notre Dame played using end of season rankings was Stanford (#6) and Notre Dame won that game 20-13OT. The best team that Alabama played, also using end of season rankings, was Georgia (#7) and Alabama won 32-28. Therefore it seems fair to say that Notre Dame’s defense is comparably better than Alabama’s defense and certainly by more than the 0.4 points that separates these defenses.
On the other side of the ball, Alabama’s offense seems to have clear superiority over Notre Dame’s offense. Alabama’s offense has scored an average of 38.5 points a game this season. The Fighting Irish have scored an average of 26.8 points a game. In passing and rushing yards averaged per game these teams are virtually identical, but yardage alone does not win a game, converting those yards into points does. Alabama scores their points nearly evenly between the pass and the run with a slight inclination to the run. But Notre Dame heavily favors the run, nearly twice as much as the pass. Furthermore, the Crimson Tide has attempted just 20 FGs this season making 15 of them. Notre Dame has attempted 32 FGs and made 24 of those field goals. Clear edge to Alabama on offense for averaging more points per game and for being able to score more TDs with their offense (Alabama – 62 TDs & Notre Dame – 35 TDs).
The odds makers are likely assuming that these two defenses are of equal strength, therefore, a 10 spread represents the difference in average points scored. However, here it has been argued that the Fighting Irish defense is probably much better than the Alabama defense and as such can hold back Alabama’s stronger offense from getting that 10 point lead. Alabama still seems to be strong enough (and experienced enough) to win this game. However, picking Alabama to cover a 10 point spread is a risky proposition. As for the point total, Notre Dame should be able to get 20 points; they have only been held under 20 points twice this season. Alabama should be able to get the 26 points the odds makers are attributing to them but no more. LSU was the best defense that Alabama played this season and they allowed an average of 16.9 points a game (11th) and Alabama could only score 21 points in a 21-17 win.
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