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Not Unbeatable

Dec 1, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and running back Eddie Lacy (42) celebrate winning the 2012 SEC Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome. Alabama won 32-28. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

An important but rarely spoken factor involving sports is belief. We’ve all heard the clichés – everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time. And while rationally it is true, how much of a difference does it make when the helmets are strapped on? I remember repeating the pants cliché to myself as I lined up at football practice against a linebacker who would eventually become all-state.  I told myself we were equals again and again. As to whether or not his pants were any different than mine, I couldn’t say, as every play my face was in the dirt while he took turns chasing our quarterback or running back in the backfield.

Belief is important, and regardless of what the pundits say about Notre Dame’s chances, I have no doubt Notre Dame’s players will take the field against Alabama believing and expecting they can win. However, the points levied by pundits cannot be ignored: talent matters, and Alabama has lots of it. You don’t post a 34-5 record since 2010 or appear in your third national championship in four years without an abundance of skill. But is Alabama’s talent so superior that Notre Dame’s loss is a foregone conclusion?

One way to answer this question is to compare both teams’ starting lineups based on their recruiting rankings out of high school. Such a comparison definitely has its faults. Recruiting rankings are the definition of subjective, and every recruiting website is a bit different. And often times the rankings are far off the mark. Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert is a perfect example. Eifert, fresh off being named the best tight end in the nation, was only a Rivals 3-star out of high school. The comparison may not give a complete picture, but it at least offers one, however incomplete.

Examining both offenses, the talent gap is not as gaping as many have suggested. ESPN has been focusing on the rushing attack of the Crimson Tide headed by Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, and rightfully so – they embarrassed Georgia in the SEC Championship game by putting 350 yards on the ground. T.J. Yeldon was a Rivals 5-star, and Lacy a 4-star. How does that compare to the Fighting Irish’s rushing attack? It turns out it’s nearly a draw, though slightly favorable to Alabama. Theo Riddick was a Rivals 4-star, but Cierre Wood’s status is a tad murkier. Wood started his senior year of high school as a Rivals 5-star but was downgraded to a 4-star at the end of the recruiting cycle, a fact that angered ND fans at the time. But the fact remains: ND’s running backs were as heralded, or close, coming out of high school.

A similar story emerges when comparing offensive lines. Since Notre Dame became paired with Alabama on January 7th, one of the major stories has been whether or not the Irish could handle Alabama’s offensive line, particularly the Tide’s center, Barrett Jones. Alabama’s offensive line is mixed, boasting two Rivals 5-stars in its offensive tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker, but also a pair of 3-stars in its guards, Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen. Notre Dame’s offensive line is more balanced, boasting all Rivals 4-stars except Mike Golic, a Rivals 3-star.  What’s the overall verdict? Alabama’s starting lineup has an average star rating of 4.0 compared to Notre Dame’s 3.8. The difference is so negligible that a comparison of defensive line talent is even more noteworthy.

Alabama’s defensive line is as follows: Ed Stinson (4-star), Damion Square (3-star), and Jesse Williams (4-star). This is where the biggest disparity resides. Notre Dame’s starting front is strongly ahead of Alabama’s, with Stephon Tuitt (5-star), Louis Nix (4-star) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (4-star). The average star rating for Notre Dame’s defensive line is 4.3 compared to Alabama’s 3.7.

If games are won in the trenches, Notre Dame actually owns the advantage. Adding the average star ratings of both offensive and defensive lines, the Fighting Irish hold four-tenths of a point advantage over the Crimson Tide. In fact, the ratings between both teams are very similar at a number of different positions, including linebacker, where both teams own a 4.25 average star rating.

When the numbers are crunched, the talent gap being announced by national pundits is closer to myth than reality. These findings are not meant to downplay the skill or success of the Crimson Tide over the course of the past few years – it’s merely meant to show that when the Fighting Irish line up across from Alabama on January 7th, they won’t have to repeat clichés about pants the way I once did.

79 comments

  1. Any notre dame fans left? I want to talk about the game.

  2. Steve,

    I´ve heard the same thing about PAC referees.

    I just don´t want excuses from either fan base. I´ve always said sports fans are the worse hypocrits in that they always recall the bad calls that go aganst them but not the bad ones that go their way.

  3. Steelfanrob, I am uncomfortable with the PAC twelve officials myself. I am not worried about their bias , just they like to insert themselves into the game too much for me. Your wish for no controversy, I can say amen to that, but do I think we will get that, let’s just both hope so!

  4. Dude that’s harsh.

  5. Stevey Jo Bim Bob Smith,

    Listen to this “NAWTH” Boy! Mr. Bearer of false witness, the truth is the way whether you like it or not! Especially, ND’s academic position is without question ranked nationally superior to Alabama whether you like that or not also! I know you think your a clever demon to skew a baseless position of racism out of our academic success. Howbeit, we really don’t give a damn what you think!

    Poke this! Do us all a favor and super glue your lips to your beloved Bama site. They deserve your evil choir! Couple that with your mean-spirited-hate: “Are you a racist or just stupid?”

    So here is your 1st clue Mr leaving. Make like a tree and really leave! Along with your evil-antagonistic-filthly-racist-atheist-ways!

    Bless your heart Mr. get our facts straight!

  6. Thanks, Steve, that´s big news. Too bad for ND. I agree with you. Hopefully it´s a great game, and a true game of the new century, and there´s no controversy. Let the game be decided by the players on the field.

  7. Well ok. I do have some news to report. Barrett Jones practiced today for the first time. Honestly we didn’t have faith in our backup center in a game like this. Nd and bama played last centuries 1st game that was called game of the century. It looks like we are playing this centuries first one too!

  8. You know, Steve, it´s one thing to have fun at the expense of people you know. It´s another to do it here, with unknowns, and at this time, when ND is playing for a NC.

    Cut the crap already and either stick to your promise and leave us be or talk some Xs and Os.

  9. Now steelfanrob let’s get or facts straight. I have just been poking fun at you guys. Nothing vicious like you boys have returned. I don’t have any hate in me. I do love bama though as you guys do nd. Most of the attacks from you guys have been plain mean. I only brought up racism as it seemed to me the janitor remark came from that mentality or a place like it.
    Win or lose I won’t categorically hate anyone from anywhere for any reason. I really do judge on the content of character if I judge at all which I try not to do so. Rtr

    • Steve,
      I wasn’t being hateful either. I was just joking around with the “song” I wrote. I love the south, have no problem the Tide etc. Hell I’ve even got some cousins in Bama. You have to understand though, there have been some real trolls and a-holes coming on this site. If you are telling us that all is in good fun than I’ll take you at your word.

      Although at ND we do take alot of pride in the academics first and those accomplishments, I would not put Bama in the category of most SEC football factories. This year, if I’m not mistaken, Alabama graduated 80% of its players. That is respectable and dwarfs the “winning football at all costs” like the Ohio States of the world.

  10. I hear the beat down comin,
    It’s Rollin round the “bend”
    Nd has seen no sunshine
    Since they don’t know when
    They are stuck with a crummy football team
    And the dreams are gonna die.
    When they hear the tide a comin
    They hang their head and cry.

    To the tune of ” folsum prison blues”

    • Thanks for that. I mean, you’re adorable, what with making up cute songs and such. And a second thanks for explaining to us what melody we needed to match it up with. Otherwise we wouldn’t have known.

      • “I can see my sister comin’,
        She’s waddlin’ ’round the bend,
        She been shoppin’ down at the Walmart since, I don’t know when,
        Ya know I had her once or twice before,
        But I don’t count too good,
        I’m just fixin’ to get me some,
        And take her to the woods.

        Ya’ll know we burned a cross in Hunstville, cause ya know that’s just what we do,
        We don’t like the smell of yankees, especially colored ones and Jews,
        Yeah we live in SEC land, where foo-ball reigns soo-preme,
        But when it comes to “school stuff”, our boys are sorta lean…”

        (See I can do it too Smithy. It’s not hard. Disclosure: I love the south and have nothing against it. I’m just giving what we’re getting.)

    • Steve,

      Didn’t you say you were leaving? I guess down there in the Bible Belt let your yes be yes and no be no doesn’t mean much. So much for the words of Jesus among Bible-thumping hypocrits!

      I love how you faked feeling wounded by our insensitivity and protested that all you wanted was to have a respectful dialogue about the game. So, I offer an olive branch. But it turns out that you’re just a BS artist who just wants to spew hateful garbage.

      JC was right. You’re really just a hate-filled, godless reprobate, regardless of how much you go to church.

  11. If I’m Kelly, I have beaten the team up a bit through mid December, but not smashed it’s confidence. I’ve let them know that they are equal in potential to Alabama, but that now is their chance to show it. If these coaches know their team, and I think they do, then I’d expect Kelly to notice details with a keen eye and to make sure that this team is tuned up and ready to execute. Strength and speed are not an issue. Notre Dame showed every team this year, that team speed was not an issue. Weis said it in his final couple of years, that defensively he and his staff needed to get guys making the right reads and moves. The secondary that everyone feared would be leaky, is an example of how coaching and tuning make the difference. Among any top 30 team, there just isn’t that large of a difference in true speed, just technique and ability to read and react.

    So, my hope is that Kelly has this team focused to remember the bad times and understand what they have to look forward to if they focus and maintain poise.

    I do think two things are very possible. I think a less than sharp ND squad will get clobbered. But I also think that an ND squad like the one that faced Oklahoma, with the improved offense since then, can beat Alabama by 10 to 17 points.

    I like that this is an outdoor game and on reasonably neutral ground.

  12. ripper,

    Most of the Bama players failed kindergarten two or three times at least. That’s why they llok so old. They just couldn’t master fingerpainting and nap time. At least now they’re able to get a BA in fingerpainting and napping from the University of Alabama. Practice makes perfect, ripperduck!

  13. Man, how old do you have to be to play at Bama??? Some of those guys look older than Saban….

  14. As usual, most people seem to have missed the mark. Brian Kelly is COY, deservedly so. No one, and I mean no one, thought of this ND team coming close to an unbeaten season. Last years qb play was, to say the least, uninspiring, and it had to be corrected immediately. Not with a schedule that included subdivision teams, but one of the toughest SOS, all D1’s. Along with an unsettled qb, ND lost its best receiver, two starting corners, a freshman All American left, a bunch of freshmen who would have to step up and become significant.

    Given all that, what was a coach to do? Create the best ball control offense in CFB. The stat that amazed me was that ND had the most time consuming drives that led to scores. In other words, Brian Kelly devised his version of “small ball,” i.e., you don’t need heroic qb play, 500 yard offenses, big plays. All that was required was to take what was given, make few mistakes, intelligent players and a solid run game. Reading some of the ND critics, it’s seems that too many of us have been jaded with the spread, up and down offenses, mediocre, if any defense, and the spectacular sizzle reels concocted by ESPN. Solid open field tackles, excellent interior trap blocks, qb’s who know when to throw it away rather than risk a TO don’t make it on to the promo, but it is essential to a 12-0 season.

    For all that, the coaching staff at ND, imo, has outdone that of Bama, and is the factor which will make ND victorious. The ND brain trust is the best in college football this season, and should be what allows us to win the BCS…

  15. I’m sorry I should have said it differently. Manatee would just be an undersized linebacker in the sec. Or he might be a third string corner in the sec due to lack of speed. I think he could best be used in a nickel package.

    • How old are you? What an amazingly ignorant and uninformed comment. I suppose that’s why he won all those awards. oh and let’s not forget that he’ll be able to get a professional job after pro football. Well, I guess Forest Gump really does come from Alabama .

    • Hey Steve Smith, why don’t you go find a pro Vladmir Putin blog and just tell him and all the Russians that. You want to fight them or that you think they are gay or some smack like that. Maybe you can get your jollies pissing of al Qaeda It’s about as intelligent. You remind of a fat kid named Melvin who just exists to be a pain. Total waste of organic. Matter.

    • Manti is a manatee now? More degrading, dehumaninzing, truly racist remarks from a true hypocrite known as “Steve Smith”!

      Manti T’eo is only the most decorated D player in college football history. That’s more than any SEC D player past or present can say!

      He’s also getting a degree from the University of Notre Dame. That’s worth a thousand useless University of Alabama degrees.

      How ironic that a KKK Bama fan should accuse anyone of racism. Compare your racist remarks to those you claim are racist by us and there’s no comparison. You, sir, are the one who is a true racist.

      Notice that my olive branch was thrown back in my face by this troll. It’s clear that this liar and hypocrit (didn’t you say you were leaving this board?!) never really intended to have a respectful dialogue.

  16. Trolls do what trolls do, JDH and C-Dog.

    Notice that I offered both “Steve” and “Buckeye” an olive branch to start over again and talk about the NC game in a dispassionate, respectful manner. What did they do with my peace offering? Well, “Steve,” who promised to leave our site and accused us of racism (laughable that a person from Alabama would have the audacity to call anyone racist!), responded by dehumanizing Manti T’eo’s name. Who’s the real racist?! This guy claims to be a lawyer but is in reality a thin-skinned hypocrite who is a cry baby to boot!

    I offered “Buckeye” a chance to start over again and talk Xs and Os. Hopefully, if he comes back, he will do so in a more respectful fashion. But in reality it seems that if it doesn’t involve putting ND down and crapping in our home these inbred trolls really couldn’t care less about showing any class. All they want to do is come on here and tell us how ND football sucks and is unworthy of the NC game and expect for us to be welcoming. In addition to classless they’re truly clueless!

    These people are losers who have clearly nothing better to do with their sad lives. Like I’ve said in the past it makes you wonder about their upbringing. God forbid any of you should raise your children to be as gutless and classless as these trolls on our site.

    “Beau” is right. Talk is cheap. We’ll see who has bragging rights by midnight on Jan. 8. Until then opinions are like a-holes, everyone’s got them. (Of course, not everyone is enough of an a-hole to go into someone else’s home and take a dump on them. That takes a real special breed of a-hole!)

  17. Why would I go to their site? It’s classless. Only losers hng out on another fan site to smack talk. I guess if you are some weenie or trail or trash you would do that. But any time I have ever gone to a rival site it is only to be gracious and offer positive comments.

  18. To All ND regulars on this site: Have any of you EVER gone to an Alabama, OSU, or (fill in the blank) to “discuss”/talk smack/tell other fans what’s what?

    Yeah, me neither. Isn’t it just spectacularly odd?

  19. No more Monday’s until the beat down. I predict that mancow tayhow will square up to tackle Eddie Lacey and literally get cleat marks on his stomach and chin guard.

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