Two of Alabama’s opponents crushed two of Notre Dame’s opponents in Bowl games last week, and 10-point underdogs like Notre Dame have won only 23% of the time since 1999.
However, with Massey Ratings predicting that Notre Dame's defense could hold Alabama to just 17 points and a seven point loss, Everett Golson will try to be the 5th running quarterback to expose Bama’s Achilles Heel and “Win on for the Gipper” as Ronald Reagan implored. The two main factors in determining who should win a football game are: 1) who is the better team as determined by analytics, and 2) is there a stylistic match-up that gives an advantage to one team in a particular matchup.
1. Alabama is a better team than Notre Dame Results of games are what matter, and so they are the basis of all predictive analytics. Michigan provides the only team for comparative scoring. Alabama was 27 points better than Michigan when they played on a neutral field, and Notre Dame was only 4 points better (won by 7 but you deduct 3 points for home field advantage).
So on you most basic comparison Alabama is 21 points better than Notre Dame. The Bowl games this week provided two chances to compare common opponents once removed, and when you add those to the common foe Michigan, here is what you end up with after those games (adjusting margins by three points for home field advantage): a. Bama +19 > Mississippi, Miss +21 > Pitt, Pitt even with ND = Bama by 40 over ND b. Bama -8 < Tex A&M, Tex A&M +28 > OU, OU -20 < ND = Bama & ND tie c. Bama +27 Michigan, ND + 4 > Michgan = Bama by 23 over ND d. Average: Bama by 21 over Notre Dame What analytics do is use these comparisons on every game played so you are getting a fair adjustments for all results against all levels of competitions, and once you run all the numbers it is much closer than a 20-point spread.
In fact, www.masseyratings.com show that once you adjust all scores for all competition, Notre Dame only scores 10 points against Alabama on average, but they also only give up 17 to lose by a touchdown. That gives Notre Dame a 30% chance of a win, a little better than the 23% chance of a Las Vegas 10-point underdog winning since 1999.
2. Notre Dame's combo of a running quarterback and great front-seven is their shot. However, when you look at the specific “style of play” that can impact particular match-ups, there are two potential indicators that Notre Dame could pull the latest upset in their storied history. First, Alabama is one of only 19 teams in the country to gain more yards on the ground than through the air (the other 100 teams get more passing yards). Notre Dame’s front seven has been called one of the best ever, and with Alabama relying on the traditional running game and play action passes off of that running game, if the Irish can keep the running game in check then they could hold Alabama to the 17 points Massey projects. And if that happens Notre Dame could pull the upset, because the only five times Alabama has lost in the last four seasons has been when running quarterbacks have been able to get some gains on the ground:
College rushing stats for quarterbacks are confusing because unlike in the NFL, sacks are all counted as carries. However, if you can see that all five times Alabama has lost, it was to a team who had a running quarterback who managed to keep the secondary honest by getting down the field a few times.
While he is not a Heisman winner like Johnny Manziel or Cam Newton, Everett Golson gives every indication he can have the same kind of running game. Except for being out against BYU and only running once while he was dicing up Wake Forest through the air, Golson has averaged almost five yards a carry even after subtracting out sack yard in the past six games. He has carried more than 11 times a game.
Put it all together, and Notre Dame does have the right combination in a great dual threat quarterback and stifling front seven to have a chance against the best team in college football.