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And in that corner… The Alabama Crimson Tide

Jan 5, 2013, 11:52 PM EST

Alabama wide receiver Cooper celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the NCAA SEC college football championship in Atlanta. Reuters

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Are we ready yet? After 40 days, there’s little to discuss that hasn’t already be covered for the past few weeks. But before we call no joy, it is worth at least discussing the very real difference that comes along with beach in South Florida right now. Just about every Alabama fan in town completely expects Notre Dame to get throttled.

Of course, on a night like tonight, optimism reigns supreme. When a guy like Mike Golic decides to cast away ESPN and play the role of Irish cheerleader, you know things are good. But for thousands of Irish fans,  being at the pep rally, listening to the Irish marching band, and hearing inspirational words from guys like actor Martin Short, Pat Terrell, Tony Rice, and Lou Holtz makes some sense.

Looking for the opposite perspective, I tracked down Don Kausler Jr., writer for the AL.com team of newspapers. Don and his crew have been spitting out stories just about on the hour since they arrived in Fort Lauderdale, so getting his perspective on the proceedings would be critical.

After pumping out a few thousand words, I asked questions and Don thankfully gave the answers.

***

1. Most Notre Dame fans watched Alabama dismantle Michigan to open the season and slide by Georgia with a tremendous comeback in the SEC Championship. How good is this team? Could they be as good as the team that had five players drafted in the first 35 picks?

This is a very good team, maybe a great team, but it has a few flaws. The offense sometimes disappears in third quarters, but it has set a single-season school record with 500 points. The defense has four shutouts, and the first-team defense held two other opponents to no points, but LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia found ways to move the ball and score. It’s easier to throw than to run on this defense, and the Crimson Tide has been vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks. It contained the running of Michigan’s Denard Robinson, but he connected on two long passes. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger completed 24-35 passes for 298 yards and one touchdown. Georgia’s Aaron Murray completed 18-33 passes for 265 yards and one touchdown.

2. It appears that the Crimson Tide are battling a few injuries to some key players. How are Barrett Jones and Jesse Williams healing? How important are they to Alabama’s success?

Both have healed. Williams never missed practicing time. He has worn a brace on his sprained knee. Jones missed Alabama’s first nine postseason practices while recovering from a sprained foot. Both will start. Will either one play at 100 percent? That remains to be seen. Williams probably will be used only in situations where running is anticipated. Jones played essentially on one leg for three quarters in the SEC Championship Game, and he helped Alabama rush for 350 yards.

3. Notre Dame enters the national title game undefeated and ranked first in the nation, yet they’re decided underdogs. How does Nick Saban and the Alabama staff view Notre Dame’s personnel? Does it match-up to the SEC’s best?

 Saban and Alabama players have had nothing but great things to say about Notre Dame’s personnel. We’ve heard many comparisons between the Fighting Irish and SEC teams. Some Alabama players have said Notre Dame’s defense reminds them of Georgia’s star-studded unit that features three probable NFL first-round draft picks.

4. It looks like it’ll be strength vs. strength on January 7th when Alabama’s offensive line takes on Notre Dame’s front seven. Any individual match-up worth keeping a closer eye on?

Definitely keep an eye in the middle, where Alabama center Barrett Jones and Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III will battle. Alabama loves to run inside-zone plays, and if Jones can handle Nix solo, guards Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen will be able to block linebackers. If not, look for double teams, and Notre Dame linebackers might be able to clog running lanes.

5. Skill-wise, Notre Dame hasn’t faced a team with talent like Alabama. Irish fans know about the two-headed monster of Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon. Who else should they be worried about?

Freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper is dynamic and has emerged as a deep threat in recent games. Junior quarterback AJ McCarron is a savvy leader who seldom makes mistakes (26 TD passes vs. 3 interceptions). He is particularly dangerous on play-action passes that usually are set up by success on the ground. If Notre Dame pays too much attention to stopping Alabama’s running game, McCarron could make the Irish pay with passes. He will take what the defense gives up.

6. One issue that seems to stay below the mainstream radar is Oversigning. From 2008-12, the Tide signed 32 + 27 + 26 + 22 + 26 players, making the management of 85 scholarships difficult. Saban spoke delicately about the issue last year. Has anything changed in the SEC? Can you attribute some of the SEC’s dominance to the conference’s propensity to sign oversized recruiting classes?

Saban has gotten some grief, and he’s sensitive to the criticism, but he plays within the rules. Those rules changed in 2011. The SEC reduced the number of players a school can sign in one year from 28 to 25. “Back counting” is allowed for early enrollees if the program is under the 85-scholarship limit. Saban has offered some players “grayshirts,” meaning they sit out the fall semester and enroll in the spring. Skeptics say Saban engages in “roster management.” He says players create their own exits. That is, some leave because they don’t want to sit on Alabama’s bench. Some leave because they aren’t making good grades. Some are offered medical scholarships if they no longer are healthy enough to play. Ultimately, room typically is made for a maximum number of signees each year.

***

Special thanks to Don for getting me answers in a really busy week. For more, check out his Twitter feed and check out Al.com’s coverage of the national championship.

  1. 11thstreetmafia - Jan 6, 2013 at 1:33 AM

    Gray-shirting is wrong and rules will be made to rectify this.

    • papadec - Jan 6, 2013 at 1:56 AM

      I agree that grey shirting is wrong. If/when the ncaa ever gets around to addressing the issue, we will see the end of the sec domination. The sec will not address the issue without the ncaa taking action. The name of the game is MONEY – and BCS Bowl games mean BIG money to the teams & conferences. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a change.

    • c4evr - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:26 AM

      Grayshirting now, Prop 48 in Holtz’s time… tomatoes, tom-ought-oes. Let’s call the whole thing off.

  2. jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:27 AM

    “some leave because they don’t want to sit on Alabama’s bench.” I’m sure some leave because they’re told that they’re going to just sit on the bench if they don’t. All of those practices have a bottom line impact on GSR as well. Where does Bama rank in that dept?

  3. irishfb05 - Jan 6, 2013 at 6:13 AM

    Leaving for Miami!!!……GO IRISH

    • Jennifer - Jan 6, 2013 at 8:48 AM

      With you in spirit Irishbo5! 40 Days and 40 nights ~ After the agony (of wait) for followers, we’re all hoping an image of Touchdown Jesus is shown after the final play to salute our victorious Irish!

    • bernhtp - Jan 6, 2013 at 1:31 PM

      This is my third day in Miami. It is an amazing atmosphere with Irish absolutely everywhere.

  4. goirishgo - Jan 6, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    I like ND’s chances. Avoiding turnovers/penalties, controlling the ball, and minimizing big plays has been the formula all year. Absolutely no reason it can’t work tomorrow.

  5. dutch31 - Jan 6, 2013 at 8:46 AM

    Anyone else at Pep Rally?? 50,000 ND fans?? That’s my guess

    GO IRISH

  6. 9irish - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    I think Notre Dame is a snake in the grass, underestimated, tired of being chased by someone’s dog, so it turns around and attacks it.

    I think this will be tough, but it will go well.

    And everyone will shut up

    Go Irish

  7. kiopta1 - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Off topic but can someone explain to me how TAMU can sign 35+ commits? That just seems crazy to me…and wrong. Also I think Bama folks and those SEC band wagoners are playing with fire by putting down ND and doubting them so much.

  8. nudeman - Jan 6, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Random thoughts:

    1) 41-14, 52-0, 33-14, 44-13, 38-7. Those are some of Alabama’s scores this year. So you’re saying that would have been against Puerto Rico, Lower Toledo, etc? Wrong. Michigan, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Miss. State. Quality programs, some of whom had down years, and yes they also played some creampuffs too; but they won those games HUGE. Point is, they beat big programs and they beat them badly.

    2) 66.8, 26, 3. AJ McCarron. Compl %, TDs, INTs. Sounds like more than a game manager to me.

    3) 7. Number of times Bama scored more than 40 points.

    4) 5. Number of top 15 teams Bama played. Went 4-1, losing only to Johnny Football.

    5) 1. Number of opponents in common ND has with Bama. That would be Michigan who Bama destroyed 41-14 (seemed like 214-14). ND had Mich at home, scored exactly one TD and won by 7.
    HOWEVER, I think we all agree that ND is a markedly better team now than early in the year.

    Anyway, my overall point hereis that the BS about “they didn’t play anybody” is just that: BS. They mowed down everyone in their way except A&M.

    To borrow a PGA quote: These guys are good.

    But ND will win.

    • ndfaithful - Jan 7, 2013 at 12:56 PM

      Very interesting Nude! I love the commentary. Alabama is very, very good. A worthy challenge. An opponent that will fall loud and hard if we win! What else would we want!

      Here’s some interesting related, but random thoughts (in your “numbers” format)

      1.) 64.5 – The average rank of Alabama opponents rushing game.

      2.) 1 – The number of opponents Alabama faced that rush for more than 200 ypg. (Texas A.M.)

      3.a.) 7 – The number of times Bama put up 40 points against their opponents.

      3.b) 25 – The number of OTHER teams that put up 40 or more points against Alabama opponents.

      4.) 3 – number of times ND beat a favored opponent in 2012

      5.) 2 – number of times ND beat an opponent favored by double digits on the road

      6.) 1 – games that matter left to play

      7.) 13 – National championships for the IRISH recognized by the NCAA

      Here’s hoping for #14 tonight!

      GO IRISH
      I believe.

  9. papadec - Jan 6, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    nude – that’s probably why ‘Bama is a 10 point favorite. I don’t know if you saw that SI article that has ‘Bama winning 23-16. It was an interesting analysis. I think it will be ND winning 23-16. Maybe 20-16. But, ND winning – none-the-less. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. dudeacow - Jan 6, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    GOT DAT RING

    ND thumps AL 23-6, and the natty is ours!

  11. montjamz - Jan 6, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    23-6 ROLMFAO

    • nudeman - Jan 6, 2013 at 6:30 PM

      Not picking nits here … well, actually I am
      What does “ROLMFAO” mean?

      Relaxing On Lounger (while) My Fu**ing A** Ooozes?

      That’s my best guess.
      Anyone else?

  12. bduncan81 - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:58 PM

    I dnt think there’s anything wrong wit gray shirting as long da player doesn’t have a problem wit it & u explain da situation as 2 why there needs 2b a gray shirt. Gray shirts happen all da time. If people has a problem wit it then rules need 2b changd 2 fix it

  13. ndnut - Jan 6, 2013 at 11:16 PM

    bduncan81
    Nice SEC verbiage there! ;)

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