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.

View Comments

  • 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"

    • 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.

    • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.