Senior College Football Columnist

Against Irish, Bama gets biggest spread in years? Tide earned it


FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Alabama has earned it.

No, not another crystal ball. Not quite yet.

The Crimson Tide have earned their place in every sports book in Las Vegas, in the mind of every bettor who may consider putting a couple of bucks down on Monday's BCS title game. No matter who you think is going to win, the Crimson Tide have earned what is becoming an historic point spread.

Vegas has made them the biggest BCS title game favorite in 10 years (9½ points), third-biggest of the BCS era (since 1998). That is according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the firm that sets the line for major sports books in Las Vegas.

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"The dominance of previous seasons definitely factors into it," said Joel Staniszewski, an oddsmaker for LVSC. "When you see SEC schools destroy teams, conference affiliation definitely has a lot to do with it."

Yes, Alabama has earned that prohibitive favorite's role. So has the SEC which has won six of these in a row. That figures into the line. This is what we're left with since Texas -- the last team outside the SEC to win it all -- beat USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl: The undefeated No. 1 team in the country is almost a double-digit underdog on a neutral field.

Luck of the Irish? Can't get much better luck than the Crimson Tide playing on Sun Life Stadium turf grown on an Alabama sod farm.

The spread has only grown since the game opened at something like 7½ points. Yes, the SEC has something to do with it. Bama is trying to become the first team of the BCS era to win back-to-back titles and third program ever to win three in four years.

"There's no expectation on our behalf that we're going to walk on the field and intimidate anybody on Monday night," said Mike Elston, Notre Dame defensive line coach.

The 9½-point spread is the biggest in a BCS title game since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (Miami by 12 over Ohio State). Florida State was the second-biggest favorite (11 points) over Oklahoma in 2001. Both favorites lost. Overall, favorites have been 7-7 in this game.

Alabama is on the brink of history that doesn't see an end. Notre Dame is trying to restart the pilot light on its legacy. It's Forrest Gump vs. Rudy, North vs. South, Golden Dome vs. Sweet Home, Catholics vs. Cousins(Jimmy Clausen's take, not ours).

Vegas can't see all the way to South Florida. Never mind the current Irish have never been on this stage or that approximately 16 Alabama seniors could have three national championship games.

"Do you know what would happen if Coach Saban saw this interview and watched me say the D-word?" said center Barrett Jones, one of those seniors.

D-word. Dynasty. It has to be considered if Alabama wins its third title since 2009 and Saban wins his fourth in nine years.

Win or lose, Domers are going to be asking if Notre Dame can keep it going. It's taken a quarter century to get back to this point. A one-and-done jump to the top -- and back down -- will not be tolerated.

"It's unacceptable for a standard to be any less than being back here again," Kelly said.

Ask the preseason No. 1 how fame can be fleeting.

"We went from [number] one to nothing," USC receiver Marquise Lee said at a press conference here on Sunday. "They went from nothing to [number] one."

The Irish were the first team of the BCS era to go from unranked to No. 1. Destiny? Schmestiny. Kelly plans to hit Bama in the mouth, nurse a close game to the fourth quarter and let his defense take over. It could happen because it has happened. ND won six of its games by nine points or less. Stylish they ain't.

"I have not based any programs on we're going to get good luck or we're a team of destiny," Kelly said. "Fighting Irish, that's who we are. That's how we're constructed. We're going to battle you. First time our back has a chance, he better lower his shoulder."

Never mind that this might be the "least" talented of Nick Saban's three teams he has taken to this game. Never mind that the Bama defense has shown holes at times. According to defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Bama hasn't lost its edge in a game like this since a 35-21 loss to South Carolina in 2010.

"It makes it easier on coaches when there is an edge," Smart said. "When there's not, it's twice as hard because you've got to have a motivating factor."

In 2009, Bama hadn't won a national championship since 1992. Last season, it was revenge against LSU. So what is that motivating factor on Monday night?

"We've obviously got something to prove," Smart said. "They're No. 1 and we're No. 2."

That might be motivation enough for the defending champions/prohibitive favorites. Just don't ask Staniszewski to bet on it.

"I try to stay away from gambling," he said.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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