The Spread, Week Seventeen: The Case Against Alabama

On January 7th, 2013, if we we’re still here, Alabama will take on Notre Dame for the national title in the only post-season game that matters. It may be the most David/Goliath title game the BCS has ever cranked out: last year’s champion towering over a scrappy independent that wasn’t even ranked in most reasonable pre-season polls. Notre Dame also happens to be the most popular team among casual college football fans, which is probably 90% of why the rest of us can’t stand them.

It’s been a long time since Notre Dame won a national championship in football. So long that there wasn’t even a BCS the last time they were on top. In fact, there was no such thing as Sun Belt football, Big East football, Conference USA or the Mountain West. So if you know a Notre Dame fan, they are going to be incredibly insufferable should the Irish pull off the upset.

And it will be an upset, because as soon as the matchup was announced, Bama was installed as a 9 point favorite, despite being the #2 ranked team and owners of the only loss on either team’s record. You know why.

The primary difference between the two teams is on the offensive side of the ball. The Crimson Tide have scored like crazy pretty much all season, finishing 15th in scoring offense. Notre Dame is 75th. But that’s not the whole story.

Alabama has played 13 games, six of them against teams with winning records. In those six games, the Tide average 31.8 ppg, nearly 12 points less than their average against losing teams (43.3). Seven of Notre Dame’s 12 games were against winning teams. Their scoring average is slightly higher (27.6) in those games than in games against losing teams (25.6).

Notre Dame played two teams who won 10 or more games this year and went 2-0 in those games with an average margin of victory of 12 points. Alabama played three such teams, going 2-1 with an average MOV of a single lousy point.

The two teams are virtually dead even in scoring defense, each giving up fewer than 11 points per game. But can you guess who looks significantly better when we dig deeper? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.

In games against winning teams, Notre Dame maintained their overall average of 10.3 ppg. They gave up 10.4 to losing teams. On the other hand, Alabama allowed more than twice as many points to winning teams (15.8) as they did to losing teams (7.3). Against 10-win teams, the Irish gave up 13 points in both games, while Bama surrendered 17, 28 and 29.

This trend holds up in most of the other statistical categories (although it’s worth noting that it flips in Bama’s favor in passing offense), suggesting that Alabama could find themselves feeling like that stunned Miami team in 2002 if they take the Irish lightly.

There are some other, intangible factors surrounding this game as well. Brian Kelly has the opportunity to cement his legacy as Notre Dame’s coach, while Nick Saban is staving off rumors of his inevitable second shot at the NFL. For some reason, there is a tendency for teams with “storyline” players to win. Clarett, Tebow, Young… Te’o? Six title games have featured one of the teams from the previous year’s game, but no team has ever won consecutive titles.

And, of course, there’s the whole thing with the world ending tomorrow. Sorry, Bama.


  1. This has the feel of the 2002 NCG…. Notre Dame led by a stout defense will need to play ball control and error free and smack them in the mouth. If they can do these things and have Bama make some mistakes they can win the game but it will be extremely difficult. The one thing that interests me the most is how well will ND fans travel with the kind of money those people have and the long time since they have been in a game this big I expect to see a huge advantage of ND fans over Bama fans who have been to these games several times lately.

    • It didn’t work out quite like I thought, but I did propose Alabama as Miami (seems legit) vs. Notre Dame as Ohio State (gross) back in October, so I take a little satisfaction in that.

      There are a lot of parallels, including a long title drought (24 years for ND vs. 34 for OSU back then) and a supposedly insurmountable foe. Throw in the Notre Dame Year 3 trend and you’ve got yourself a good old-fashioned Team Of Destiny.

      You make a good point with the crowd as well. There are easily 40,000 Notre Dame alums who would pay off a Tide fan’s trailer for a ticket to this game.

  2. Come on guys, SEC. SEC, knowutimean?

    In all seriousness, you bring up some interesting stats to compare but I worry about the match-up against a common opponent. Alabama had their way with Michigan while that UM/ND game was close (even as ND’s defense had their way with Michigan’s offense). I’m with everyone else, I’m rooting more for Bama to lose that ND to win.

    (Full disclosure: Due to the fact that one “Tony Rice” played QB for the Domers back in the early 90s, I was a closet ND fan. Of course they were a distant second to the Buckeyes, but I was known to root for them on occasion)

    • Tony Rice was actually the QB for the 1988 National Championship Notre Dame team and was playing in Canada and Barcelona in the early 90s, but close enough. Also “Tony Rice” is a similar name to “Tommy Rees” so obviously the Mayans have chosen Notre Dame to win it all this year as predicted by Nostradamus and I watch too much History Channel.

      Back in September, I probably would have agreed with you about the vs. Michigan comparison, but now I don’t know that the Wolverines are necessarily the best equalizer. They were a pretty inconsistent team this year and beat no one of consequence. They played better with a QB turned WR turned back to QB than with their actual starting QB. For two consecutive games, they scored 0 TDs. They almost lost to Air Force and Michigan State but also almost beat Ohio State.

      They were also without Toussan’wich against Bama, although I don’t know that it would have made much difference.

      • Ugh it was ’88? Thanks for making me feel older than dirt. Also I didn’t know he played for Barcelona. That makes me like him (me) even more.

        Yeah I agree that both teams look different from back in September. It’s a shame we can’t get a better read on them.

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