No doubt the SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia was one of the best games of the year. For about three and a half hours, it felt like the game was played with the sense of urgency you typically see in a fourth quarter nail-biter. Alabama outlasted the Dawgs, winning 32-28 thanks in large part to the Tide's excellent O-line and their rugged tailback tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, who combined for 334 of the team's 350 rushing yards -- almost 200 of those yards in the second half. Georgia freshman RB Todd Gurley was equally impressive.
I realize a lot of people now expect the Crimson Tide will pummel Notre Dame in a little over a month in Miami in the BCS title game. You know, "grown man football" and all. Of course, the SEC has won six national titles in a row and the opposition doesn't get much benefit of the doubt against that. Plus, it's been a generation since the Irish had a football team the country had to take seriously. Blowout?
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I'm not so sure it's going to play out that way after watching the past three months.
The common thought among many SEC loyalists is that No. 1 Notre Dame -- despite its 12-0 record -- would be only the seventh-best SEC team if it were in the conference, behind Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina. But I wonder how many of those people have actually eye-balled Notre Dame in person. Yeah, I get Notre Dame's secondary is its weak spot and the jury's still out on young QB Everett Golson, but both have grown up quite a bit in the past three months. But let's not kid ourselves. Remember, the Johnny Manziel or Jeff Driskel we think of now aren't the same as the players we saw in early September.
And all of this season's college teams have some blemishes.
I'm not ready to say that I'm calling a Notre Dame win -- I'm not -- but I hope in the wake of Saturday's riveting game, we all don't get too caught up in the fireworks from that game. Georgia, for all of its NFL talent, is No. 79 in the nation against the run. The Dawgs were No. 67 coming into the game, and had allowed more than 600 rushing yards the previous two games against Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern. A few ND friends raised a valid question for those scoffing about ND's 12-0 mark: What is Georgia's second-most impressive win? Beating Vandy?
The Irish are No. 4 in the nation against the run. As I wrote last week, they look much like a top SEC team. Their D-line, anchored by 340-pound Floridian Louis Nix, is going to be a problem for anyone. Ends Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore each are north of 300 pounds, and both -- like Nix -- are surprisingly nimble. The smallest of the ND's four linebackers weighs 240 pounds, and the guts of the defense -- Manti Te'o -- would start at every program in the SEC.
A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine who is an NFL player likened this year's Fighting Irish team to the 2002 Ohio State squad quarterbacked by Craig Krenzel that won the BCS title by stunning a Miami team that was the defending national champs and riding a 34-game winning streak. That OSU team, like this ND team, was coming off a five-loss season and made it to the BCS title game after starting the season outside the preseason Top 10 by winning a bunch of close games.
I see similarities with that Buckeye team, but I don't buy the notion that the Irish only beat Alabama by pulling off a Buster Douglas or Rollie Massimino shocker. I know the experts in Vegas have opened the line with Bama more than a TD favorite, but I just don't see this Alabama team as invincible, or close to it. The Tide has shown it can struggle against a dual-threat QB who can extend plays and has a strong arm. Everett Golson isn't as dangerous as Johnny Manziel, but the ND QB has proven in the second half of the season that he is a much better passer than many thought. Golson also has a more potent go-to weapon in TE Tyler Eifert than does Manziel. A&M also gave the Tide some problems by sticking someone over Barrett Jones and challenging Bama. The Irish certainly have the capability to do that, too. These are not your older brother's Fighting Irish.
Bama's biggest edge over Notre Dame won't be size or strength, it'll be experience. The Tide players, starting with AJ McCarron, have been through the whole BCS title game deal and have thrived in it before. So have Nick Saban and his staff. They know exactly what they're doing and why. For the Irish, this all will be new and the next five weeks should be fun as we've got a matchup of two proud programs with some of the richest history in the sport.
Random Stuff• It's time to vote for the Heisman this week. I haven't submitted my ballot yet, but I'm pretty sure my Top 3 will be Johnny Manziel, Manti Te'o and Collin Klein. If I had five spots, No. 4 would be Braxton Miller and No. 5 would be Marqise Lee. You can make a compelling case for any of them and I'm sure diehard fans of those five can and will make strong arguments against any of the other four.
I've had ND fans bring up Manziel's stats in A&M's loss to LSU, where he threw three INTs. Conversely, I've had A&M folks point out that Te'o couldn't have been that outstanding when the Irish barely survived against a middling Pitt team in triple-overtime while Panthers RB Ray Graham ran for 172 yards and averaged more than 7 yards a carry.
• Great job, Art Briles ... again. Baylor lost its franchise player, Robert Griffin III, and still led the nation in total offense, averaging 579 yards a game. At this point last year, with RG3, the Bears ranked No. 2, averaging 572 yards. On Saturday, they beat Oklahoma State 41-34, eclipsing the 600-yard mark for the sixth time. Oh, and anyone who had been ready to label former blue-chipper Lache Seastrunk as "a bust" better think again. The former Oregon RB had 178 yards on 16 carries and averaged 139 rushing yards in the Bears’ final five games.
• Stat of the Day, Take I: Stanford freshman QB Kevin Hogan is 4-0 as a starter. He's also 4-0 against teams ranked in the BCS' top 16. Some Cardinal fans also have noted that Stanford owns more wins over ranked teams (five) than Alabama and Georgia have combined (three). The Cardinal beat five teams ranked in the top 20 and own two victories over teams ranked in the top two when they met. Even if you throw out Stanford's Sept. 15 win over then-No. 2 USC, the Cardinal still have four wins over teams in the BCS top 16.
• Stat of the Day, Take II: It's rare to see much movement in the NCAA official national team statistics this late in the season because there's too much data for one game to cause much of a shift. But when one game is as nightmarish as Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game was for Nebraska's D, it can really do some damage. Wisconsin trampled the Huskers, hanging 70 on Nebraska, rolling for 539 rushing yards and almost 11 yards per carry. It dropped Nebraska from No. 73 in the nation in run defense all the way down to No. 95. It also was the kind of performance that Bo Pelini and the Huskers won't be living down any time soon. Getting blasted like that, by a team that was 4-4 in a very down Big Ten no less, will leave quite a dent in the national perception of the Nebraska program. At one point midway through the third quarter the Huskers were down 63-17 and had surrendered 454 rushing yards.
Congrats to Bret Bielema, who despite having to overhaul his coaching staff, led the Badgers to their third consecutive Big Ten title, the school's first such three-peat.
• Stat of the Day, Take III: Courtesy of Kentucky beat writer Kyle Tucker, who notes that in incoming Wildcats coach Mark Stoops' last game as FSU's defensive coordinator his unit limited the potent Ga. Tech ground attack to 140 yards below its rushing avg.
• Dave Doeren didn't bask in Northern Illinois' MAC title win Friday night for very long. By Saturday afternoon he was on a plane to North Carolina to take the NC State job. Doeren was only at NIU two years and bounced to a bigger job. What he leaves behind figures to be an even better team than this 2012 version that went 12-1. Standout QB Jordan Lynch returns along with the bulk of the rest of the team's top talent. New NIU head coach Rod Carey, the team's old run game coordinator, inherited a pretty prime situation.
• So much for that "schematic disadvantage" Dana Holgorsen lamented when he talked about the matchup against Charlie Weis' KU Jayhawks earlier this week. By halftime, WVU had 390 yards of offense and a 35-7 lead en route to a 59-10 rout. Geno Smith completed 96 percent of his passes and had 407 yards and the Jayhawks 11-game losing streak is the worst in school history since KU lost 17 in a row in the mid-50s.
• Sorry to hear about the passing of Rick Majerus. On Sunday morning I read three columns about the longtime hoops coach and with each of them I felt more envious of those who got to know him. He sounded like quite the character.