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Can Notre Dame Upset Heavily Favored Alabama?

10:54 AM, Dec 31, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Not only is Alabama looking to win its third national title in four years, but a victory over Notre Dame will give the Crimson Tide the most back-to-back championships (three) in history.

Alabama, currently tied with Oklahoma at two apiece, finished No. 1 in 1964 and 1965, and 1978 and 1979, while the Sooners held the top spot in 1955 and 1956, and then again in 1974 and 1975.

Overall, Alabama leads Oklahoma by one national title (8-7) and only one other school has won more championships than the Sooners - Notre Dame. Ironically, the Fighting Irish are tied with Alabama with eight national titles so this game is not only for bragging rights in 2012 but also for all-time.

Most experts think Alabama will easily defeat the Fighting Irish since the Crimson Tide are favored by 9.5 to 10.5 points, depending on which book is used. The key question in this one is: Should Alabama be giving so many points to Notre Dame?

The Irish have beaten nine other clubs that have reached the postseason and it could have been 10 if the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes did not impose a bowl ban on themselves. On the other hand, Alabama has played just seven bowl-bound squads winning six, with an average margin of victory of 16 points.

However, after the Tide demolished the first four clubs by an average score of 37-9, they defeated the other three by an average score of 26-25. It's true the final three teams were top-notch squads (LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia) but so is Notre Dame.

The Irish have played one of the toughest schedules in the country and have escaped unscathed. Defensively, they ranked No. 1 in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) play allowing just 10.3 points per game.

Alabama finished second in scoring defense, just behind Notre Dame, at 10.7 ppg. Nevertheless, the Irish were No. 1 in rushing touchdowns allowed with two while the Tide were tied for sixth with nine. (The two teams wound up tied for fourth in passing touchdowns allowed with seven.)

Do not expect many points (or total yards for that matter) in this contest as: (1) both clubs are dominant against the run and (2) both teams use the run to set up the pass. Alabama runs the ball almost 64 percent of the time while Notre Dame does so at a 58 percent clip.

Alabama has the slight edge offensively, especially at quarterback, as A.J. McCarron has thrown 26 touchdown passes compared to just three interceptions. However, all three picks have come in the last four games. Notre Dame's Everett Golson holds an 11-5 touchdown/interception ratio and his inexperience in a big game could come back to bite the Irish.

Still, despite Alabama's edge in experience, there is no reason the Tide should be favored by 10 points. In fact, the only reason they are giving the Irish such a large figure is due to the fact their power number was so much higher than Notre Dame's total before the season began.

Notre Dame has a great chance of winning this game outright.

Take the Irish plus 10 points and under 41.5 points.

ONE MORE THREE-STAR SELECTION

Oklahoma meets up with a familiar foe in Arlington as Texas A&M is the opponent in the 2012 Cotton Bowl.

The Sooners are actually getting points for just the fifth time in bowl action since 2000. They lost both straight-up and against-the-spread in the BCS Championship Game to Florida a few years back but they won the other three games outright. On the other side, Texas A&M is 2-7 both SU and ATS in its last nine bowl games.

The Aggies sport the Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel. Nonetheless, Oklahoma allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 51 percent of their passes for fewer than 200 yards per game. Moreover, the Sooners' defense gave up only nine passing touchdowns the entire season.

Oklahoma has owned the Aggies with eight SU wins the last nine seasons and four ATS victories over the last five. Look for another SU and ATS win in the Cotton Bowl.

Take Oklahoma plus three points.

TWO-STAR PLAYS

There are no two-star plays.

ONE-STAR SELECTION

There are no one-star plays.

THE OVERALL RECORD

Including bowl games through Dec. 29, my overall record is 101-88-5 after going 8-3 so far in postseason play. The five-star plays stand at 10-8-2, the three- star selections are now 26-27-1, the two-star picks are 36-32-1 and the one- star plays are 29-21-1.

As a reminder, five-star plays are when my personal plays coincide with my power rating plays (games with at least a five-point differential between my line and the actual line). The three-star choices are my personal picks, the two-star plays are the games the power rating system picks and the one-star plays are my personal secondary selections.

THIS WEEK'S JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"

1) Oregon, 109; 2) Alabama, 108; 3) Georgia, 104.5; 4) Texas A&M, 104; 5) Florida State, 99.5; 6-T) Notre Dame, Kansas State and South Carolina, 99; 9) Stanford, 98.5; 10-T) Clemson and Oklahoma, 98; 12) Oklahoma State, 97.5

(The Top 12 is not a reflection of a given team's won-loss record. It is based on power ratings used to predict spreads for the upcoming week. At the beginning of the season, all 124 FBS teams are assigned a power number, which changes on a week-to-week basis depending on the results of the previous week.)

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