NCAA College Football National Semifinal - Early Game

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NCAA College Football National Championship Semifinal Early Game

All times Eastern

Click here for Ohio State - Clemson.

Friday, January 1

Rose Bowl
4:00 pm #4 Notre Dame vs. #1 Alabama (-20, 65 1/2) - There's little doubt that Alabama is deserving of its #1 ranking as the regular season came to a close and the playoffs for the national championship commence.

The Crimson Tide completed an undefeated season of all SEC games by holding on for a contentious win against a steely Florida Gators team in the conference championship, 52-46, and an 11-0 record.

QB Kyle Trask of Florida had an incredible game, but Mac Jones, Alabama's quarterback, was just a little bit better, throwing for 418 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Contributions to the Crimson Tide championship win were strong efforts from Najee Harris, who rushed for 178 yards on 31 carries and scored five touchdowns, two on the ground and three through the air, and, Davonta Smith, with 15 receptions, 184 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

This triumvirate of offense is expected to flourish again against Notre Dame, leading to Alabama's 12th win without a loss this season, advancing the Tide to the national championship game.

Over the course of the season, Alabama has progressed defensively from adequate to outstanding, though one could hardly make that claim in their effort against the Gators. While the SEC championship game may have been something of an aberration primarily due to the Gators' high octane offense, Alabama defenders must do better agains the Fighting Irish if they intend to capture the national title.

There's no questioning the ability of Alabama's offense to produce points on just about every possession, and the defense should be reliable enough to stop Notre Dame consistently enough to provide a cushion on the scoreboard. Consider what the Tide has done against ranked opponents this season, starting with their 52-24 win over Texas A&M on October 3rd, followed two weeks later by a dominating performance over Georgia, 41-24, and in late November taking down Auburn, 42-13.

In each of those games, the defense was more than good enough. They were at times, stifling, controlling the line of scrimmage, stuffing the run and turning normally good offenses into one-dimensional shadows.

What Alabama did to lesser opponents is eye-popping: 41-0 over Mississippi State, 63-3 over Kentucky, and 52-3 over Arkansas are prime examples of just how supreme the Crimson Tide was in the SEC this season.

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame may not have been the best choice as the #4 seed in the national championship playoff scenario, but they were at least as deserving as Texas A&M, Cincinnati, or Oklahoma may have been.

Oklahoma was doomed by two early-season losses. Cincinnati, though unbeaten, played in the American Athletic Conference, not one of the holy "Power 5" conferences that the selectors favor, and, Texas A&M lost to the Crimson Tide earlier in the season, though their case is heightened by the fact that the Irish are coming into this game off a 34-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship. Only a strong second half by Notre Dame in that game kept the committee from changing its mind.

Clemson raced out to a 24-3 lead at the break, but only outscored Notre Dame, 10-7 in the second stanza. In the end, it doesn't really matter that much. Alabama was going to beat whatever team was chosen at #4.

In the ACC title game, the Irish were unable to generate consistent drives on offense. Ian Book, who was 20-for-28 for 219 yards, didn't throw any interceptions, nor any touchdown passes and he was harassed and sacked repeatedly. Notre Dame's rushing game was neutered. Taking out Book's -35 yards, the rest of the Irish rushed for 79 yards on 20 carries, just under four yards per attempt and hardly good enough against the Tigers' defense.

Kyren Williams, the leading ball carrier for Notre Dame, had 15 carries for 50 yards, but, one run was for 24. Taking that out, his performance in the trenches was horrible: 14 carries, 26 yards. The Irish will have to do better than that against Alabama. If they can't run the ball, Book will be running for his life.

Defensively, Notre Dame didn't really show up for the title tune-up. Trevor Lawrence torched the defense for 322 yards, two scores and one pick. Lawrence also rushed for 90 yards on 14 carries. Travis Etienne led all rushers with 124 yards on just 10 carries. Notre Dame couldn't stop him. They were lucky to slow him down a few times.

Other than the disaster of that last game, the Fighting Irish were just fine, going 10-0 prior to the ACC championship. All but one of their games (South Florida, 52-0) were in the ACC and that included a 47-40 double overtime win over Clemson in which Lawrence had been sidelined due to COVID rules.

The ACC wasn't very strong after Clemson, the Irish, North Carolina, and Miami, and Notre Dame didn't play the Hurricanes. Their 31-17 win at North Carolina on November 27 was solid enough. The Tar Heels have an explosive offense and the Irish shut it down. Most of the Irish wins during the season were not impressive, such as the 12-7 win over Louisville, a 45-31 victory at Boston College, or even their 45-21 win over a sub-par Syracuse team. The most impressive of the bunch was a 45-3 rout of Pittsburgh.

The bottom line here is that Notre Dame is a very good football team, but that Nick Saban has put together at Alabama may be one of the all-time greatest. The Crimson Tide offense is just about as unstoppable as an offense can be and that requires the defense to be only adequate, though they are more than that: good, not great.

Don't expect the Irish to run the ball much. Alabama will shut that down. Notre Dame will be better served with an aerial attack, though it's unlikely that they'll keep pace with Jones, Harris and Smith. The only question is how much Alabama can win by and the oddsmakers say they'll need a three touchdown edge to cover. There's every indication that they can do that, especially if special teams and turnovers fall Alabama's way, which they should.

Coin Flip: Alabama

Prediction: Crimson Tide 48 Fighting Irish 20

Click here for Ohio State - Clemson.

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