No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Notre Dame will take center stage opposite each other in of the most unique editions of the Rose Bowl in the game's long and storied history. Not only is this one of the seasons that the Rose Bowl will play a part in deciding the national champion as a College Football Playoff semifinal, but the game will be played away from Pasadena, California, for just the second time ever as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and current health restrictions in Los Angeles County.
Despite the game being moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, this is still a matchup of two of the most iconic programs in all of college football. Not to mention, they were both ranked in the top three for much of the season leading up to this semifinal matchup with a shot at the national championship game on the line.
Despite being two of the most iconic programs in college football, they have only played seven times before Saturday. The last time they met was in the 2013 BCS National Championship when the Crimson Tide smashed the Irish 42-14. Will history repeat itself on Saturday night or will the Irish get over the hump and make it to the CFP National Championship Game? Let's take a closer look at the storylines and matchups to follow before making some expert picks below.
Alabama: One of the most prolific offenses in program history has produced two Heisman Trophy finalists and five first-team AP All-Americans with running back Najee Harris, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and center Landon Dickerson joining quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who was also named the AP Player of the Year and SEC Offensive Player of the Year. It's no surprise to see nearly half of the spots for the first-team offense held by Alabama players when you consider not only where the Tide stand in their own history but how the group as a unit has been elite every time it hits the field. Alabama's offense averaged 49.5 points per game during the 10-game regular season and then capped off the year with 52 points and 605 yards of offense in the win against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. It was seventh time in the 11 games of the 2020 campaign that the Tide eclipsed 500 yards of offense and third time over 600 yards of offense.
Perhaps no player better symbolizes Nick Saban's embrace of winning with offense than Jones, who holds four of 10 games in which an Alabama passer has eclipsed 400 yards. And while the yardage total (3,739 in 11 games) might stand alongside some of the Air Raid offenses of the early 21st Century, this is a highly efficient passing attack with Jones boasting the best completion mark and best passer rating in the country.
Notre Dame: The first and only year of full ACC membership in football can only be viewed as a success for the Fighting Irish, even if it did not come with a championship. There was plenty of intrigue into the what would happen when Notre Dame both faced a full conference schedule and was compared regularly to conference peers, and the result was a near-total domination. After going 10-0 in the regular season with a 9-0 record against ACC foes, it swept the award season. Kelly was named ACC Coach of the Year, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year, running back Kyren Williams was named ACC Rookie and Offensive Rookie of the Year, and offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg won the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy. In total, 18 Notre Dame players received All-ACC honors and wins against Clemson and North Carolina not only proved where they stand against the rest of the league but helped keep the Fighting Irish in the top four after losing to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
But if regular season dominance against the ACC affirmed Notre Dame's place as one of the top programs of the College Football Playoff era, the conference title game loss brought back a familiar refrain of doubt regarding national championship contention. No one in the sport will argue the high floor that Kelly has established in South Bend, InsiN, over the last several years, but this matchup against Alabama will serve as a judgement on the program's ceiling. That's not particularly fair to Kelly or the players who have shined all season -- especially considering the strength of this year's Alabama team -- but it's the way things work in a reputation-driven sport like college football.
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Game: Rose Bowl -- College Football Playoff semifinal
Date: Friday, Jan. 1 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium -- Arlington, Texas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Rose Bowl prediction, picks
Notre Dame has been too solid, too veteran-led and too ready to answer the challenge all season for me to think we see another steamrolling like the 2013 BCS Championship Game. I don't doubt that Alabama will strike early and likely be in control for most of the game, but this is too many daggum points for a College Football Playoff semifinal between two teams who have a combined 21-1 on the year. Pick: Notre Dame +20 | Alabama 45, Notre Dame 28
So who wins Alabama vs. Notre Dame? And which side of the spread is hitting in well over 50 percent of simulations? Visit SportsLine right now to see which side of the Notre Dame vs. Alabama spread you need to jump on, all from the computer model that has crushed its college football picks, and find out.