Editor's note: Brian Edwards owns a 12-1 all-time record in BCS Championship Games on VegasInsider.com. Brian is #1 on VI in winning percentage (63%) and #2 in overall money (+24.3 units) thanks to a 69-41 record in college football this year.
Say what you want about Nick Saban, just don’t ever imply that the dude isn’t one of the greatest head coaches to ever live. Saban brings his Alabama program to Miami on Monday night with a chance to win a third national championship in four seasons.
Standing in the Crimson Tide’s way is another one of college football’s most storied programs, Notre Dame. Alabama’s presence is no surprise, but the Fighting Irish’s return to prominence in 2012 has been a major stunner.
The oddsmakers still aren’t believing in the Irish,though. As of Sunday afternoon, most books had Alabama (12-1 straight up, 6-7 against the spread) favored by 9 ½ with the total in the 40-41 range.
The line opened at 7 ½ at a few books that sent out an early number. However, by the time most spots chimed in, ‘Bama was nine. Since then, the number has bounced around in the 9-10 range for a solid month. The total started at 42, briefly went up to 42 ½, but has been steadily falling lower since then.
Gamblers can take the Irish on the money line for a plus-290 payout (risk $100 to win $290).
Notre Dame (12-0 SU, 7-5 ATS) has had a team-of-destiny-like feel since September when it won nail-biters at home against Purdue (20-17) and Michigan (13-6). The Irish would also narrowly escape with victories in overtime wins at home over Stanford (20-13) and Pittsburgh (29-26). They also went to the wire in South Bend before slipping past BYU, 17-14.
Notre Dame has only been an underdog twice this year, winning outright both times. The Fighting Irish captured a 20-3 win at Michigan St. as a 4 ½-point underdog. They also went into Norman and stroked Oklahoma by a 30-13 count as 10 ½-point ‘dogs.
Until the win over Oklahoma, I had serious doubts about Notre Dame. But the doubters had to recognize the significance of mauling the Sooners in their own backyard.
Notre Dame’s success has been all about its defense, a unit that’s fourth in the nation against the run, sixth overall and tops in scoring defense. The Irish allow only 10.3 points per game.
The defense is led by senior leader Manti Te’o, who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up after making seven interceptions and recording 103 tackles.
Back in August, redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson won the starting job away from veteran Tommy Rees. The move by Kelly proved to be a stroke of genius.
Golson doesn’t have eye-popping numbers but he has improved throughout the season, and he can beat you with his arm and his legs. Most important, Golson has taken care of the football. He has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards with an 11/5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has also rushed for 305 yards and five TDs.
Senior running back Theo Riddick and junior RB Cierre Wood share most of the touches for the ground attack. Riddick rushed for 880 yards and five TDs with a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Wood, who ran for 1,186 yards in 2011, rushed for 740 yards this year, but he had a sensational 6.9 YPC average.
When Golson looks to pass, his favorite target is junior tight end Tyler Eifert, who is probably the nation’s best at his position. Eifert caught 44 balls for 624 yards and four TDs.
Alabama advanced to the BCS Championship Game with a 32-28 non-covering win over Georgia as a seven-point favorite in the SEC Championship Game at the Ga. Dome in Atlanta. In a classic back-and-forth battle for the ages, A.J. McCarron connected with Amari Cooper for a 45-yard scoring strike with 3:15 remaining.
UGA was threatening in the final minute, reaching the eight yard line with 15 ticks left. However, instead of clocking the ball to give themselves at least two more plays, probably three, the Bulldogs inexplicably ran a play and a tipped pass by C.J. Mosley resulted in a UGA catch inbounds. The rest of the clock ticked away and ‘Bama survived a game Georgia effort.
After demolishing everyone in its path in September and October, ‘Bama had a close call with LSU and lost at home to Texas A&M. The Tide won in Baton Rouge thanks to a heroic last-minute drive orchestrated by McCarron, who found T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass for the game-winning score.
McCarron has completed 66.8 percent of his throws for 2,669 yards with an incredible 26/3 TD-INT ratio. Cooper made a team-high 52 receptions for 894 yards and nine TDs.
Alabama has a balanced offensive attack but its ground game is absolutely lethal. Eddie Lacy is a bruising between-the-tackles runner with speed as well. Lacy has rushed for 1,188 yards and 16 TDs while averaging 6.5 YPC.
Yeldon had an immediate impact from day one as a true freshman. He rushed for 1,000 yards and 11 TDs while also averaging 6.5 YPC.
During Brian Kelly’s three-year tenure, Notre Dame has compiled a 6-3 spread record with five outright victories in nine underdog situations. Meanwhile, Alabama has failed to cover the spread in both games as a single-digit favorite this year.
The ‘under’ has cashed at an incredibly lucrative 10-2 overall clip for Notre Dame. The ‘over’ is 6-5-1 overall for ‘Bama following back-to-back hits against Auburn and Georgia.
These schools haven’t played each other since 1987 when Notre Dame routed the Tide 37-6 as a seven-point home ‘chalk.’ In 1986, Alabama won a 28-10 decision as a seven-point home favorite.
While Alabama has won three national championships since 1992, Notre Dame is gunning for its first title since Lou Holtz’s team completed a perfect season by beating West Virginia in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl.
Kelly isn’t getting caught up in the historical significance of this game featuring two of the best all-time programs. "The tradition of Alabama and Notre Dame brings special attention to it, but we're just trying to be the best team on Monday, Jan. 7. All of that tradition, what's happened in the past, is not going to help us Jan. 7, but we do respect the traditions."
The only major injury to watch is a foot problem for Alabama senior All-American center Barrett Jones. He was injured against UGA and missed several weeks of practice before returning in the last 5-6 days. Jones will start but will he be at 100 percent? Will his conditioning be where it needs to be? We shall see.
Kickoff is scheduled for Monday night at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.