Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 2:10 PM
It’s finally here! After weeks of media hype, fan hype, and Las Vegas hype regarding the most popular sports betting game of the entire college football season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Alabama Crimson Tide will square off to determine the BCS National Champion Monday Night in Miami.
As promised, we’re here to run our indicator stats to see which team is most likely to win and cover this game that everyone in Las Vegas will be betting. You probably know Alabama of the powerful SEC is the clear favorite. Is that justified? Florida and LSU from that conference have already disappointed as clear favorites in the bowls. And, defensive minded underdogs have pulled off shockers many times in past BCS encounters.
Let’s run the numbers. Let’s see if we can divine who will be standing in confetti Monday Night and hoisting the trophy!
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP (Miami)
NOTRE DAME (12-0) vs. ALABAMA (12-1)
Vegas Line: Alabama by 9.5, total of 42
Market Moves: There was quite a difference of opinion when the opening line first went up. Many stores acted quickly once the matchup was confirmed because they wanted to be “the first” in terms of media coverage. Well, some places had Alabama -7.5. Others had Alabama -10! Oddsmakers usually don’t disagree with each other that much. Once the money started coming in…it was clear that those at -7.5 had undershot the mark dramatically in terms of what the money was going to do. The lower stores kept lifting their numbers until everyone was at the ten. More underdog money than favorite money was coming in at the ten, which forced a drop to Alabama -9.5 at many locales as we were going to press. Because of the respect the SEC has earned over the years in this game, Alabama is the decisive favorite. The Over/Under has stood pretty stiff at 42 through the long lead time to this game. Weather is not expected to be a factor. Great defenses ARE, which is why we have such a low number.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Notre Dame: 31st
Both teams played tough schedules this year. Notre Dame gave itself several challenges, including a road trip to Oklahoma. Alabama faced Michigan in its season opener, which turned out not to be as dramatic as the media had anticipated. Spin it all around in the wash, and these teams basically played dead even schedules. The margin for error in Jeff Sagarin’s schedule rankings at USA Today is larger than three spots. We’re not going to make any adjustments in our stat assessments below because of schedule strength. What you see is what you get.
Notre Dame: 49th (28th rushing, 76th passing)
Alabama: 40th (19th rushing, 85th passing)
We have extremely similar offenses here, as they ranked within 10 spots of each other heading into the bowls in total offense, rushing offense, and passing offense. Both teams prefer smash mouth football. Notre Dame’s quarterback is more likely to make plays with his legs. Both quarterbacks can blow hot and cold depending on the intensity of the opposing defense and the heat of the moment. Either team could get into trouble if they fall behind because the quarterbacks are far from sure things to rally.
Notre Dame: 6th (4th rushing, 20th passing)
Alabama: 1st (1st rushing, 4th passing)
Wow…almost the same story here. Two great defenses who grade out very close together no matter what category you’re looking at. Alabama is more than 10 spots better on pass defense, but that could be due to the lack of good passing quarterbacks in the SEC this year. Remember that mediocre Zack Mettenberger of LSU had a big second half vs. the Tide in Baton Rouge. To this point, there’s nothing separating these two teams. You can’t possibly defend a Vegas line near 10 points based on offense, defense, or schedule strength. Let’s dig deeper into what happened vs. bowl teams to see if there are more clues as to why Alabama is getting so much respect.
NOTRE DAME VS. BOWL CALIBER TEAMS (10-0 SU, 6-4 ATS)
Notre Dame (-14) beat Navy 40-14
Notre Dame (-14) beat Purdue 20-17
Notre Dame (+4.5) beat Michigan State 20-3
Notre Dame (-6) beat Michigan 13-6
Notre Dame (-15) beat Miami of Florida 41-3 (ineligible)
Notre Dame (-7.5) beat Stanford 20-13 in overtime
Notre Dame (-11.5) beat BYU 17-14
Notre Dame (+10.5) won at Oklahoma 30-13
Notre Dame (-17) beat Pittsburgh 29-26 in overtime
Notre Dame (-4) won at USC 22-13
On the one hand, the fact that Notre Dame played TEN games vs. bowl caliber teams with an Independent schedule is pretty amazing. On the other, they really didn’t impress consistently in terms of magnitude. And, that schedule was exposed as a disappointment once those teams took the field in the postseason.
BOWL WINNERS: Michigan State, Stanford, BYU
BOWL LOSERS: Navy, Purdue, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, USC
Miami didn’t play of course. The other nine teams went 3-6, and Michigan State was very lucky to be one of the three winners. BYU’s offense was horrible in a win over San Diego State that was keyed by turnovers. Heck, Stanford didn’t express much superiority over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl!
The losers? Navy and Purdue were humiliated. USC humiliated themselves. Oklahoma was embarrassed by a former conference rival. Pittsburgh (who really should have beaten Notre Dame) was squashed by Ole Miss (who lost to Alabama by 19 points).
This is why money hasn’t been flying in on Notre Dame at the high spread. They’re undefeated…but they have too many unimpressive victory margins against a slate of teams that has been exposed in the bowls. Three point regulation wins at home over Purdue and BYU look even worse now than they did at the time. Overtime wins over Stanford and Pittsburgh (both of which were very fortunate) don’t wow anybody either.
Let’s do Alabama...
ALABAMA VS. BOWL CALIBER TEAMS (6-1 SU, 2-5 ATS)
Alabama (-13) beat Michigan 41-14
Alabama (-38) beat Western Kentucky 35-0
Alabama (-31) beat Mississippi 33-14
Alabama (-22) beat Mississippi State 38-7
Alabama (-7) won at LSU 21-17
Alabama (-13.5) lost to Texas A&M 29-24
Alabama (-8) beat Georgia 32-28
Hey, not so fast! Yes, Alabama crushed Michigan by 27 while Notre Dame had to sweat out a touchdown win. But, the Tide was certainly exposed as vulnerable in those last three games. Alabama was lucky to survive LSU, couldn’t survive A&M, and had to sweat Georgia in the SEC Championship game. If you believe Notre Dame is a legitimate top six team who deserves to be in the same quality discussion with the likes of LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia…then the BCS championship line isn’t defensible. Alabama only won scoreboard over those three teams by three points in a mix of home-road-neutral.
The market is saying that Notre Dame ISN’T in the class of LSU, A&M, and Georgia. The market is saying that Notre Dame is in the class of Pittsburgh, BYU, Michigan, Michigan State, and the like.
ADDING IT ALL UP
JIM HURLEY believes handicapping this game comes down to getting a proper read on where Notre Dame really stands on the national stage. The styles are the same. The points of emphasis are the same. If Notre Dame’s wins over Oklahoma and Stanford qualify them for the elite…then this line is too high. If Notre Dame’s unimpressive results vs. Pittsburgh, BYU, and Purdue expose them as pretenders, then we may see a replay of last year’s 21-0 win for Alabama over LSU where the spread didn’t matter because the loser wasn’t going to score much.
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Back with you tomorrow as we start a series of reports on college basketball to get you ready for league play. Obviously, the big story tonight is football…the biggest game of the year in college football! When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!