After a downfall in the ACC Championship Game, Brian Kelly and his team must immediately turn their attention to another dynasty, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Notre Dame will have less than two weeks to prepare for the #1 team in the country, and the Irish are already the largest underdogs in the history of the playoffs. In a rematch of the 2012 National Championship Game, Brian Kelly will strive for victory in what would likely be the greatest upset in the history of Notre Dame Football.
Two Playoff Appearances in three years
Notre Dame solidifies a Rose Bowl berth. The Fighting Irish are, without a doubt, one of the best four teams in the country. Brian Kelly knocked off #1 Clemson (albeit without key players), handled #12 North Carolina on the road, and made it to the ACC Championship Game. Now, the Irish are headed back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since Knute Rockne led Notre Dame to Pasadena back in 1924.
Only five programs have been to the playoffs multiple times. The Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers stand alone as the top tier of college football. These two programs have been in the playoffs six times each. While teams like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and a few other programs compromise tier two. Last year, the LSU Tigers did win the national title, but at this moment, that seems like more of an outlier with Joe Burrow.
Yes, the Buckeyes won a national title, but that was back in 2014 with Urban Meyer. Ohio State has never beaten Clemson and even lost 31 to 0 against the Tigers back in 2016. If the Fighting Irish or even Buckeyes want to get back to that level, they will have to pull off the upsets in Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl contests.
Rematch of 2012 National Championship
What has changed since the last meeting? Notre Dame has certainly improved since the 2012 title game, but so has Alabama. The Crimson Tide used to win low scoring games with defense. Now they have perhaps the best offense in the country under Steve Sarkisian. Back in 2012, the Irish were winning close games, but this year Brian Kelly has dominated most of the competition.
Notre Dame was riding a 16-game winning streak before Saturday, beat Clemson in November, and is still on a 24-game home winning streak back in South Bend. Brian Kelly has the Irish primed for the playoffs each season, but the real question is what will happen once they reach Rose Bowl.
Would a win be the biggest upset in Notre Dame history? The Irish are significant underdogs in this matchup, not only due to past precedent but because of what happened against the Clemson Tigers recently. Notre Dame is one of the best programs in college football history and will not be given a chance against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide on New Year’s Day.
The greatest upset in the history of Notre Dame Football is likely the victory against Oklahoma in 1957. The Sooners were on a 47-game winning streak and were 19-point favorites at home. But the Fighting Irish were able to go into Norman, Oklahoma, and end the longest winning streak in the history of college football.
Alabama Offense looks unstoppable
The Crimson Tide have a 3-headed monster. Quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith have been unstoppable in 2020. Most schools are lucky to have one player in the Heisman conversation, but Alabama has all three athletes in the mix. Jones has nearly 4,000 passing yards, Harris almost 1,300 rushing yards, and Smith more than 1,500 receiving yards.
The Notre Dame Defense will have a daunting task of “slowing down” the Tide offense because shutting them down is not realistic.
However, the Alabama Defense could be vulnerable. Who remembers when Alabama beat Ole Miss 63 to 48? That contest seems forever ago because Saban’s Defense has been dominating since then. After the Ole Miss matchup, only 2 of the last 9 opponents have scored over 17 points.
If there is hope for Brian Kelly and the Irish, the Florida Gators put up 46 points in the SEC Championship Game with a 6-point loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Fast Start is essential in this matchup
Running Attack is the key to an Irish victory. In the ACC Title game, the Notre Dame offense only mustered 44 rushing yards against the Clemson Tigers. Kyren Williams had 15 carries for 50 yards (3.3 yards per carry). At the same time, Ian Book had ten rushes for -35 yards. Brent Venables kept Book contained the whole game, and the Irish Quarterback could not flee the pocket.
Alabama will undoubtedly try to replicate the Clemson game plan. If Notre Dame is going to have a chance in this matchup, they must establish a running game and control the clock. Unfortunately, the Irish Offensive Line has not been the same since the loss of Jarrett Patterson.
Irish must take advantage of opportunities. Notre Dame cannot afford to beat themselves in the Rose Bowl. Against Clemson, the Fighting Irish had drives stall out in Clemson territory. The offense has struggled inside the red zone all season, and most specifically inside the 10-yard line. Early against Clemson, the Irish drive was halted at Clemson’s 6-yard line, and the woes were compounded with a 24-yard missed field goal.
On the next drive, Ian Book threw a pass off the hands of Avery Davis on a 4th and 3, which just seemed to demoralize the team. Notre Dame cannot afford those mistakes against Alabama. If the Crimson Tide gets off to a fast start, there will be no catching up.
Is it now or never? This is year 11 of the Brian Kelly era, and there is no guarantee there are more opportunities to come. As mentioned earlier, Notre Dame has established itself as one of the best programs in the country once again. They remind me a lot of Oklahoma, who has made the playoffs four times but has yet to win a game.
I do not believe that it is now or never, but at some point, the Irish must compete with Alabama and Clemson in the postseason. Notre Dame is better in the trenches than 2012, but will it be enough to pull off the upset? If so, we will find out on New Year’s Day.
Notre Dame needs to compete until the end. The Fighting Irish have had three undefeated regular seasons since 2012, played for a national title, and made the playoffs twice. It is great to make the College Football Playoffs, but now the goal is to win the national championship.
The lopsided losses in the postseason have been demoralizing. At Notre Dame, there should not be moral victories; however, for on the field success and recruiting success to continue, the Irish must compete in these games. Brian Kelly and the Irish have the chance to go toe-to-toe with the Alabama Crimson Tide and show Notre Dame has improved since 2012.