No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Notre Dame will meet in one of the most unique editions of the Rose Bowl in the game’s storied history. Not only is this one of the year’s that the Rose Bowl will play a part in deciding the national champion as a College Football Playoff semifinal, the game will be played away from Pasadena, California, for just the second time ever as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and current health restrictions in Los Angeles County.
So while we’ll miss the scenic views of the Rose Bowl Stadium in the afternoon on New Year’s Day, we still get a matchup of epic proportions with two of the sport’s iconic programs clashing with a spot in the CFP National Championship on the line. Not only are these two of the top programs in the country, but for most of the 2020 season, they had been recognized as two of the top three teams in the country.
While these programs have combined for 28 national championships, this will only be their eighth meeting and first since Alabama’s 42-14 win in the 2013 BCS Championship Game. Nick Saban is 4-0 overall against the Fighting Irish, but that title game win is his only victory as the Crimson Tide’s coach. That was also the only meeting for Brian Kelly against Alabama. The Irish hold a 5-2 lead all-time in the series, but the shadows of a lopsided result in the title game the last time these two met will be a running theme throughout a game that has already opened as the largest point spread in College Football Playoff history.
Alabama: One of the most prolific offenses in program history has produced two Heisman Trophy finalists and five first-team AP All-Americans with running back Najee Harris, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and center Landon Dickerson joining quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who was also named the AP Player of the Year and SEC Offensive Player of the Year. It’s no surprise to see nearly half of the spots for the first-team offense held by Alabama players when you consider not only where the Tide stand in their own history but how the group as a unit has been elite every time it hits the field. Alabama’s offense averaged 49.5 points per game during the 10-game regular season and then capped off the year with 52 points and 605 yards of offense in the win against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. It was seventh time in the 11 games of the 2020 campaign that the Tide eclipsed 500 yards of offense and third time over 600 yards of offense.
Perhaps no player better symbolizes Nick Saban’s embrace of winning with offense than Jones, who holds four of 10 games in which an Alabama passer has eclipsed 400 yards. And while the yardage total (3,739 in 11 games) might stand alongside some of the Air Raid offenses of the early 21st Century, this is a highly efficient passing attack with Jones boasting the best completion mark and best passer rating in the country.
Notre Dame: The first and only year of full ACC membership in football can only be viewed as a success for the Fighting Irish, even if it did not come with a championship. There was plenty of intrigue into the what would happen when Notre Dame both faced a full conference schedule and was compared regularly to conference peers, and the result was a near-total domination. After going 10-0 in the regular season with a 9-0 record against ACC foes, it swept the award season. Kelly was named ACC Coach of the Year, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year, running back Kyren Williams was named ACC Rookie and Offensive Rookie of the Year, and offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg won the ACC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy. In total, 18 Notre Dame players received All-ACC honors and wins against Clemson and North Carolina not only proved where they stand against the rest of the league but helped keep the Fighting Irish in the top four after losing to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
But if regular season dominance against the ACC affirmed Notre Dame’s place as one of the top programs of the College Football Playoff era, the conference title game loss brought back a familiar refrain of doubt regarding national championship contention. No one in the sport will argue the high floor that Kelly has established in South Bend, InsiN, over the last several years, but this matchup against Alabama will serve as a judgement on the program’s ceiling. That’s not particularly fair to Kelly or the players who have shined all season — especially considering the strength of this year’s Alabama team — but it’s the way things work in a reputation-driven sport like college football.
Game: Rose Bowl — College Football Playoff semifinal
Date: Friday, Jan. 1 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, Texas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Rose Bowl prediction, picks
Alabama Crimson Tide
Notre Dame has been too solid, too veteran-led and too ready to answer the challenge all season for me to think we see another steamrolling like the 2013 BCS Championship Game. I don’t doubt that Alabama will strike early and likely be in control for most of the game, but this is too many daggum points for a College Football Playoff semifinal between two teams who have a combined 21-1 on the year. Pick: Notre Dame +20 | Alabama 45, Notre Dame 28
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