The College Football Playoff gets started Friday afternoon with the Rose Bowl matchup between the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide and the no. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Crimson Tide enters the game as 19.5-point favorites with the over/under set at 65.5 points.
The Irish remained in the top-4 despite a lopsided loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Of course, before that loss, Notre Dame went 10-0 during the regular season, including a win over Clemson, so they are well-deserving of their second trip to the CFP in the last three seasons.
Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide finished the season a perfect 11-0. Alabama looked unstoppable down the stretch, although Florida gave the Tide a legitimate challenge in the SEC Championship Game. But Alabama survived and is back in the CFP after being left out last season.
The Two Horsemen
The Alabama offense features two Heisman finalists in quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith. Running back Najee Harris wasn’t far from being a finalist either, giving the Crimson Tide a loaded offense that averaged nearly 50 points per game this season. Alabama has scored over 40 points in every game this year outside of the season opener against Missouri, and the Tide has scored over 50 points in six of 11 games.
The Notre Dame defense faces its biggest test of the season. Playing Clemson twice this season should serve as good preparation for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame’s key will be stopping the run, which they managed to do in their first meeting against Clemson but failed to replicate in the ACC title game. While a pass-heavy Alabama offense is still dangerous, the Tide will be nearly impossible to stop if they establish a ground game and remain balanced.
Speaking of the running game, it’ll be imperative that the Fighting Irish establish their rushing attack against Alabama. For much of the season, running back Kyren Williams and the Notre Dame offensive line served as the catalyst for the offense. But when Williams was bottled up in the ACC Championship Game, quarterback Ian Book didn’t have the answers. Late in the season, the Irish proved that they had a viable downfield passing game. But it’ll be difficult to take shots down the field if Notre Dame cannot run the ball and keep the Alabama defense off balance.
Of course, that will be easier said than done against the Crimson Tide. From mid-October to mid-December, the Alabama defense was arguably the best in the country. There was a stretch of six games in which Alabama allowed 17 points or less in every game. They also allowed three points or less in three of those games. However, Florida dropped 46 points on them in the SEC title game, so they are far from invincible.
Notre Dame will have to play close to perfect to have a chance in this game. Alabama has the talent to dominate on both sides of the ball. The fact that the Irish couldn’t keep up with Clemson at full strength in the ACC Championship Game is a bad omen. Bet on Alabama to win and cover the 19.5-point spread.