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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 7, 2013 at 9:59 AM

THE BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW

#1 NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH AND #2 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE BATTLE IT OUT IN SOUTH BEACH TONIGHT ...

PLUS WE GET YOU THE NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND WRAP-UP AS THE CHALK SIDES RULE THE ROOST WITH 4-AND-OH SWEEP

By Jim Hurley:

Whoever said "don't believe the hype"?

The fact of the matter is when the 2012 NCAA Football Season comes to an end later this evening in south Florida there will be a proud program wearing yet another crown - Alabama's copped nine national championships in its rich gridiron history including one last year and Notre Dame owns eight national titles with the last coming in 1988 - and in this survive-and-advance season these two teams managed to get where the likes of Oregon and Kansas State and LSU and USC (among others) could not get and that's the "promised land" of a BCS Championship Game.

Who's gonna win?

Well, it's safe to say that in recent BCS Championship Games there has been a whole lot of rust that needed to be scrapped off the teams and so you might feel that the team that gets into an offensive rhythm first will win - but what constitutes offensive rhythm with a pair of teams that ranked 70th and 74th nationally in passing offense? - yes, that's Notre Dame and than Alabama, respectively.

One other argument says the team that's "been there and done that" - that's Alabama, of course - has a major advantage here in this tilt plus keep in mind this will be the third time in four years that 'Bama boss Nick Saban has prepped his club for this big game while third-year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is a mere novice at this sort of thing - although winning road games this year at Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC have to count for something, right?

So, the curtain comes down on this wild College Football Season tonight and someone's already jam-packed trophy case is gonna get a little bit more crowded - and now here's our Jim Sez preview:

BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - Sun Life Stadium; Miami Gardens, FL
#1 NOTRE DAME (12-0) vs. #2 ALABAMA (12-1) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Nobody won the close games this year quite like #1 Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish copped half of their wins by nine points or less - three of those by a mere field goal in wins against Purdue, BYU and that wacky triple-OT win against Pittsburgh - and so getting into a back-and-forth tight tussle probably plays right into the ND hands here but the flip side says Alabama regularly torches its opponents as evidenced by the fact this 2012 Tide team won 10 games by 19 points or more. Va-va-voom!

Still, for 9 ½-point favorite Alabama to get some "breathing room" on the scoreboard here than it might want to allow now-veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron (26 TDs and 3 INTs) more freedom than usual to sit back in the shotgun more and trust his downfield targets to slice up an Irish secondary that's lacking for speed in some areas.

Sure, that's not necessarily the game plan Saban and his coaches normally bring into any game - no less a national title game - but it could a slice of what we all see this evening.

Now, let's dig a little deeper:

What To Watch:
Alabama knows its young defense has looked vulnerable a couple of times late in this season (see first quarter against Texas A&M and for much of the SEC Championship Game against Georgia) and so the best remedy could be a ball-possession attack that shoots for the occasional aforementioned home run ball by McCarron. No doubt that 'Bama backs Eddie Lacy and frosh T.J. Yeldon (a duo that combined for 27 TDs while each surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground) need to "be fed" but we say McCarron will take some early-game deep looks downfield and could throw the ball more than you think in the first half.

Note that Notre Dame's offense, meanwhile, finished 11th in the land in time of possession (32:34 per game) thanks to the hard-charging runs of RBs Theo Riddick (880 rushing yards) and Cierre Wood (740 yards) and the astute decisions/moves of QB Everett Golson - the Irish would love to chew yards/clock here and than have coach Kelly and Company leave it up to Heisman Trophy runner-up LB Manti Te'o and his defensive mates - but Notre Dame won't allow itself to get into third-and-long continually (as LSU did in last year's BCS Championship Game) and so some first-down chucks to TE Tyler Eifert (44 receptions) is in the cards.

The Keys:
Simply put, the Irish can't let this game "get away" from 'em here and so stabilizing things when/if Alabama takes a TD-plus lead is critical and it won't necessarily be easy for Notre Dame to keep kid Golson cool-and-calm at all times. No doubt you've seen Kelly chew out (and bench) Golson a few times this year and so if Notre Dame harbors any real upset hopes than it must stay the course when/if down two scores and Te'o (7 INTs this year) and friends must force a few turnovers and put the high-strung McCarron on his back a few times too.

If Alabama has its way here, than the Tide will wind up with 35-or-more rushes at game's end and this highly-acclaimed offensive line - dubbed by most folks as the best in the land - will be the real star at the end of the evening but Notre Dame's physical defensive line - starring 325-pound NT Louis Nix - could poke some holes in the O-line's confidence with a couple of early-game third-and-short stops. No doubt defense will swing the momentum of this game more than offense or special teams and so the trench warfare stands by both defenses will carry a lot of weight.

The Coaches:
No doubt Saban is a master in the big games but gotta admit he made a few critical in-game mistakes in that 32-28 non-cover win against Georgia in last month's SEC Championship Game and yet still lived to talk about it. Conversely, Kelly - who is hoping to join other third-year Notre Dame head coaches with national championships such as Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz - has allowed this team to find its footing it most games and he needs to allow for some hiccups here. Keep in mind Kelly's an offensive-minded head coach who's riding the coat-tails of a great defense this year but he could mastermind a trick play or two once Notre Dame crosses midfield, so Saban better be on his toes.

Spread Notes:
Notre Dame is 7-5 ATS (against the spread) this year and the Fighting Irish is a collective 18-17-3 vig-wise under third-year boss-man Kelly. Note that Notre Dame's failed to cover five of its last seven bowls dating back the past 10 years and that includes last season's 18-14 loss to 3-point fav Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Since the start of 2009, Notre Dame is an electric 9-3 against the odds whenever placed in the underdog role and that includes a pair of spread wins this year in as many tries: A 20-3 win at 5 ½-point favorite Michigan State back on September 15th and than the 30-13 triumph over 11-point home favorite Oklahoma 30-13.

On the flip side, Alabama is just 6-7 ATS overall this season and that includes a 4-2 spread mark away from Tuscaloosa. Note that the 'Bama Crimson Tide was a TD-or-larger betting favorite in each/every one of its games this year but note that since Saban came aboard in 2007 this SEC team is a cumulative 39-29 ATS as chalk sides (a .574 winning rate) and that includes covers in last year's BCS Championship Game and the '09 title tilt (see chart below) and the resounding 49-7 win against 8-point dog Michigan State in the 2010 Capital One Bowl. Finally, Alabama is 10-4 vig-wise in non-conference affairs dating back to the start of 2009.

THE LAST 3 BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES

YEAR WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
2011 Alabama - 2.5 LSU 21-0
2010 Auburn PK Oregon 22-19
2009 Alabama - 4 Texas 37-21

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will bang out the Winner of tonight's BCS Championship Game and we'll continue to rev it up this weekend with the NFL Divisional Playoff round Saturday/Sunday and right thru Super Bowl XLVII on February 3rd plus get all the NBA and NCAA Basketball Winners each and every day too. So don't you get left out in the cold! Check in with us on Game Days either right here online or at our exclusive toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the winners.

 

THE NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND IN REVIEW

Last Saturday, it was ...

HOUSTON 19, CINCINNATI 13 - Hey, it was like a guy in Las Vegas playing blackjack and "taking a hit" till he got to 19!
Four field goals by Texans kicker Shayne Graham - yes, ironically enough, a former Cincinnati Bengals kicker - plus a one-yard touchdown run by RB Arian Foster (see a whopping 32 carries for 140 rushing yards) gave Houston all the points it needed here in this hold-your-breath home win/cover but from the what-might-have-been department was that overthrown pass into the end zone with 2:54 remaining by Cincy QB Andy Dalton intended for wide-out A.J. Green or it's likely this whole AFC Playoff picture would have been different.

And that's the crux of this one: Dalton - who finished a dismal 14-of-30 for 127 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT - just didn't/couldn't make the big play when it mattered whether it's because J.J. Watt was getting in his grill or because the ground game really never got untracked either.

The $64,000 question for Houston is how on earth do you basically win a home playoff game by "one play" - the Dalton incompletion - when you out-yard your opponent 420-to-198 and than afterwards tell everyone (and we're talking to you, coach Gary Kubiak) that nobody panicked in the locker room after this late-season swoon.

Are y'all gonna panic now that you're heading to Foxboro where you lost 42-14 back on December 10th?

GREEN BAY 24, MINNESOTA 10 - No doubt the air came out of the bubble for this game when it was announced a couple of hours before kickoff that Vikings QB Christian Ponder (elbow) would not play in this night-time Lambeau Field tilt and thus Minny RB Adrian Peterson really had a reason to believe this to be a "me-against-the-world" mentality.

Peterson banged his way for 99 hard yards via the ground game but substitute QB Joe Webb was truly lost in space as he finished with an 11-of-30 passing line for 180 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT and Minnesota never did put up much of a fight but here's what the Packers need to consider after winning their first playoff game since the Super Bowl triumph over Pittsburgh two years ago:

It's nice that Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers (274 yards passing with 1 TD and 0 INT) spread the wealth around with completions to 10 different players but doesn't it seem that he's still a bit of synch with the likes of Jordy Nelson (3 catches for 51 yards and a hurt knee late) and TE Jermichael Finley (one reception) both true non-factors lately.

After the game Rodgers told the NBC folks that he was bothered by the fact the Pack sputtered for much of the third quarter when they "should have put the game away" and you wonder if GB head coach Mike McCarthy doesn't tie up some of these loose ends in practice this week will Green Bay be haunted by some sloppy play in Saturday's game in Frisco? Just sayin'!

On Sunday, it was ...

BALTIMORE 24, INDIANAPOLIS 9 - Count us among the folks who could do without all the gyrations by Ravens' soon-to-be-retired MLB Ray Lewis:
The dude's headed straight for the Hall of Fame in Canton, we know, but couldn't he tone it down on the dance floor as John Harbaugh's club looks to make a run in these AFC Playoffs?

The stat sheet says Lewis finished with 13 tackles - he also badly misplayed a potential interception and looked like an old man while bobbling the QB Andrew Luck pass - but here we go nitpicking about the winning side as RB Ray Rice lost a pair of fumbles (after not losing a single fumble in the 16-game regular season) and the complexion of this game really could have changed if not for the great hands of Baltimore WR Anquan Boldin (5 catches for 145 yards and one 18-yard scoring grab) who was easily the best player on the field Sunday afternoon.

The Ravens' defense did apply major heat to the aforementioned Luck (sacked three times in all) but both Colts WRs Reggie Wayne (9 catches for 114 yards) and rookie T.Y. Hilton (8 grabs for 66 yards) made the Baltimore secondary look sickly at times and we're quite sure the Denver Broncos' wide receivers sat up and took notice!

SEATTLE 24, WASHINGTON 14 - Let the controversy rage as to whether or not the Redskins should have yanked injured rookie QB Robert Griffin III (knee) from this game earlier but at least acknowledge this fact: Seattle spotted Washington a two-TD lead in the first quarter and than got physical with everyone on the field - and not just Griffin. The Seahawks' stop unit famously allowed only 74 offensive yards in the final three quarters of play as their brutish secondary intimidated the 'Skins wide receivers (WR Josh Morgan short-armed more than a few passes, folks) and punished a Washington O-line that all of a sudden lost its macho-ness after scoring drives that covered 80 and 54 yards.

Safe to say that if Seattle didn't spit up the football down by the goal line - a rare bad play by RB Marshawn Lynch (132 yards rushing and one score) than this could have really wound up a lopsided result but even if victory the Seahawks experienced some low moments with PK Steve Hauschka hurting (wouldn't expect him to play this weekend in Atlanta) and DE Chris Clemons (left knee) went down in the third quarter and never returned and without his presence inside the Georgia Dome this weekend the 'Hawks have some problems.

NFL WILD CARD WINNER SPREAD LOSER SCORE
(home teams in CAPS)
HOUSTON - 4 Cincinnati 19-13
GREEN BAY - 11 Minnesota 24-10
BALTIMORE - 7.5 Indianapolis 24-9
Seattle - 3 WASHINGTON 24-14

NOTE: Catch our NFL Divisional Playoff News & Notes all week long right here in Jim Sez!

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