- Travis Haney, ESPN Staff Writer
ATLANTA -- Alabama will probably open later today as a seven-point favorite, maybe a little more, over Notre Dame. The Tide were a touchdown favorite Saturday against Georgia, too.
So what should the line be for the BCS title game? Is seven about right? What about four points, like the final 32-28 score here Saturday, with the presumption that Georgia and Notre Dame are on similar footing?
I've seen the Tide twice this season (versus Texas A&M and on Saturday), and Vegas has overvalued the defending national champs each time. Will the bookmakers again overestimate the Tide in the title game, given Notre Dame's penchant to play close games with, well, anyone?
If Bama runs the ball like it did against the Bulldogs, averaging 6.9 yards a carry, it might not be enough points. But is that output reasonable to believe against an Irish defense that's ranked fifth against the run? Put it this way: Alabama rushed for 350 yards Saturday; Notre Dame has allowed 203 rushing yards combined in the past three games, against USC, Wake Forest and Boston College.
However, the last time Notre Dame faced anything resembling a running team was Pitt. Yes, the same team that took the Irish to three overtimes. And the same team that had Ray Graham, who ran for 172 yards.
And unlike what Pitt offers, the Alabama offensive line is essentially a compilation of future NFL linemen.
"They dominated," Lacy said of his blockers after going for a season-high 181 yards against Georgia. "They've got these big [defensive linemen] and we moved them out of the way. You could see them get tired."
I was fascinated with the way Texas A&M's tempo and style of play took Alabama out of its game. The Tide ran just 14 times in the second half of their 29-24 loss to the Aggies, while against Georgia, Alabama ran on 11 of its first 14 plays of the second half.
Bama got back to being Bama, instead of making A.J. McCarron into something that he's not. What was the fascination with that, anyway? Was that a new coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, wanting to make his mark? The Tide would likely be undefeated it they just ran the ball. They got cute. But now they're done being cute, when it's time to win games.
Even when McCarron hit Amari Cooper deep for the deciding touchdown late in the game, the hook was set over time. Georgia's Bacarri Rambo was half-asleep in coverage because of how much the Tide had run in the second half.
That's how Alabama wins titles, right? That's how it won this SEC title, anyway.
How about another national title?
"They've got a really good defense," Tide tackle D.J. Fluker said when asked about Notre Dame. "We know that."
Fluker then paused for a couple of seconds.
"But it's nothing we can't handle," he said.
Vegas will agree. But is seven points too much?
Here are 10 other takeaways from championship weekend:
1. Average fan's dilemma
While Bama-Notre Dame is a TV exec's delight, it's a casual college football fan's nightmare. Who in the world do you root for if you're Joe Fan, the hated conference (which has won six consecutive titles) or the hated national brand?
Some heads will explode.
"I'm pretty sure it gets the Old Heads excited," Bama linebacker C.J. Mosley told The Chicago Tribune.
"People in their 50s and 60s," he said.
"It's going to be a historic game," Mosley said.
SEC fans might have to choke back some pride to root for the Tide, even if it means seven in a row for the conference.
2. Nebraska epic fail creates chaos?
To me, it doesn't make sense that Nebraska's 70-31 blowout loss to Wisconsin could somehow influence whether Oklahoma (24-17 winners over TCU on Saturday) gets a rightful BCS spot.
The Huskers' being pummeled could open the door for Northern Illinois -- which, by the way, will not have its head coach, who took the NC State job Saturday.
Nothing against the Huskies, but I don't want to watch NIU-FSU. I don't want to watch Louisville-Florida, either. But FSU-Louisville? OK. Florida-Oklahoma? Definitely. I might even go.
In the effort of creating boundaries, and theoretical equality for non-AQs, we run the risk of missing the point of the bigger bowl games: putting together better games and matchups.
It's a shame to me that Texas A&M will not be in a BCS game, considering how well it's playing (arguably as well as anyone in the country, up there with Stanford). But it would be a travesty to have NIU in over Oklahoma, which lost only to Kansas State and Notre Dame.
3. Teddy Football? Too soon?
I've been writing for a few weeks now that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be a name to note in the 2013 Heisman race. The sophomore propelled that talk Thursday, leading the Cardinals to a win at Rutgers and a BCS berth. He did it on a bad ankle, conjuring memories of Byron Leftwich at Marshall. (Was that really 10 years ago?)
A writer from Chicago asked me a couple of weeks ago about Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch's Heisman chances, this year or next year. What I told him applies to Bridgewater, too. It takes time for fringe candidates at schools such as Louisville and NIU to build their brands and resumes enough to appeal to voters -- even if there are 900-plus voters, which to me is entirely too many. But that's another note altogether.
Johnny Manziel, whose numbers are actually similar to Lynch's, needed virtually no time to build his brand because Texas A&M is regularly in big games, regularly in prime-time TV spots.
That's why Bridgewater's performance was important for 2013, because it was unopposed on a Thursday night. Lynch's performance in Friday's win is somewhat similar, although the Pac-12 title game was on simultaneously.
Oh, and also Manziel. Aren't you curious to see how he follows up his freshman season? I know I am.
4. Ags play Heisman PR perfectly
While we're on the topic of Manziel, a pat on the back to A&M's PR team of Alan Cannon, Jason Cook and Brad Marquardt for playing the Johnny-for-Heisman thing just right. Kevin Sumlin, as a lot of coaches do, restricted media from interviewing the freshman.
But the Aggies wound up taking advantage of that, creating a steady flow of Manziel headlines this past week when he was finally made available. Johnny Football was everywhere. It kept Manziel on the general public's minds (and voters' minds, too) even though the Ags didn't play Saturday.
He'll inherently get a lot of run this week while he's in New York, doing that media circuit. Manziel is in perfect position to make history Saturday, thanks in part to some fine PR work by the SEC newcomer.
Alabama won the league, but Texas A&M might have had the best season in the conference relative to expectation. It'll likely have the school's second Heisman winner and it should have been a BCS participant, having beaten the potential national champ soundly at its place. A pretty strong opening chapter.
5. Does Jimbo at Tennessee make sense? Or should Vols go Strong?
In talking Saturday with a few colleagues, we're curious where Tennessee is headed with its hire.
Here's a question that stemmed from our conversations: How good of a coach is FSU's Jimbo Fisher, among the rumored candidates on Rocky Top?
None of us were really sure, to be honest, and that in and of itself is an answer. Is he worth something north of $4 million a year? There isn't a lot of evidence to suggest that he is.
Florida State has rebounded, to some extent, but what's at the top of his FSU resume at the moment? The Seminoles barely beat 6-6 Georgia Tech (which lost by 32 points last week at Georgia) to win the ACC.
Granted, Fisher and his staff have recruited extremely well, but the Seminoles were out of the BCS conversation by the first week in October in a year that sure seemed like their best recent shot at a title.
Don't discount the fact, too, that Fisher will not have Mark Stoops, who really turned around that defense after arriving.
Those close to Tennessee have told me that a candidate's ability to recruit and develop is paramount. So who is that guy? Louisville coach Charlie Strong seems to fit the mold as much as anyone, but is he interested?
If there's anything close to a leader in the clubhouse right now, it's Strong. But as you've seen, things change quickly in the world of coaching searches.
6. Note to Arkansas AD Jeff Long
If Baylor's Art Briles is available, hire him.
7. More on Baylor
While an up-tempo passing attack is what most associate with Briles, the Baylor running backs have been as important as anything in the Bears' hot streak to end the regular season.
In particular, Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk has emerged.
When I visited Waco back in April, I asked to speak with a few players, including Seastrunk. The SID staffers communicated to me that I was free to interview him, but they didn't know if he'd really even play this season. He was third on the depth chart, they told me, behind Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin. So I didn't talk to him.
In the past five games (four Baylor wins and a one-score loss at Oklahoma), Seastrunk has averaged 138.8 yards a game. He went for more than 175 yards in two of those games.
Seastrunk is a sophomore. He'll be back next year. But will Briles?
8. Nice night for a disappointing game
ACC title game tickets, as of Saturday afternoon, were going for as low as $2 each. The bottled water in my hotel room cost $3.50 (which is likewise silly).
I recall talking with a conference official early this season about how the ACC so desperately needed FSU to hold serve in the regular season and lift the league, but that didn't happen.
The result Saturday was a one-third-filled Bank of America Stadium on a pretty nice early December night in Charlotte, N.C. FSU's 21-15 win over Georgia Tech was as ugly as the rest of the season for the league.
Who knows, though? Teams such as Pitt and Louisville might add value to the ACC. Then again, we likely said that about Boston College and Miami. That hasn't exactly cashed in just yet.
Louisville, I will say, was the right move. It had more of an upside than Connecticut, which the ACC also considered.
9. Good work late from K-State
I looked up one time during dinner and Texas was up on Kansas State. I looked up again, and it was a three-score game.
It was a precarious position for the Wildcats, missing their shot at the BCS title game followed by a week off -- and yet Bill Snyder and Collin Klein willed them to the Fiesta Bowl.
In the preseason, I wrote often that K-State (like Arkansas) was a team susceptible to a decline from last year because of the number of close games it won in 2011. Instead, it performed cohesively throughout the season with the one glaring exception in Waco. I was wrong, although K-State's one-game hiccup was akin to Georgia's at South Carolina in terms of a downright shocking performance.
Now, how does it perform against a faster Oregon team with a month to prepare? It's a nightmare matchup, but I'm done counting out Snyder and his team. I learned that lesson when I saw KSU play at West Virginia. It's kind of like Notre Dame in that way. We've seen trends over the course of a 12-game season. At what point do they become realities, constants -- and not just trends?
The only remaining question: Does Snyder now retire the Cotton Bowl windbreaker? Maybe after the bowl game, since it'll be inside the regulated Glendale dome.
10. The real big picture
A bit beyond the hash marks, but Saturday was a tragic day in the sports world. From the Kansas City Chiefs, to the young man who fell from the stadium concourse in Charlotte, to Rick Majerus' passing, there was a pall over the results on the field.
I saw a colleague tell my friend Gene Wojciechowski that Majerus had died. Wojo was visibly crushed to hear the news, even though he knew Majerus had been in poor health. Wojciechowski wrote a beautiful tribute to his buddy, with whom he had written a book. My heart goes out to Majerus and his family. He sounded like a hell of a guy, a life that was lived fully but cut short nonetheless.
I was reminded Saturday that there are a lot more important things than whether Aaron Murray should have spiked the ball with 15 seconds left in the Georgia Dome. Those things are important, but college football is just a game we cover and follow.