SEC: Everett Golson

Alabama bowl X factor

January, 7, 2013
You didn't think we'd leave the defending champs out did you? Here's a look at Alabama's X factor in tonight's Discover BCS National Championship Game against No. 1 Notre Dame:


Adrian Hubbard, So., LB: The Crimson Tide had problems the last time it played a solid dual-threat quarterback. While Notre Dame's Everett Golson certainly isn't Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, he can make plays with his legs, and gives the Irish another threat in the running game. His ability to extend plays with his feet could make things tough on Alabama's secondary, which has had its issues at times this year. That's where Hubbard comes in. The strongside linebacker had a knack for making this difficult on quarterbacks all year long and he'll have to make sure he can contain Golson tonight. Hubbard finished the regular season with a team-high six sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He has the speed to get right into Golson's face, but he has to be patient as well because going in too quickly could make Golson that much tougher to defend if he gets room outside the pocket. Hubbard can bring good pressure and contain Golson in order to take away his dual-threat ability. Alabama needs Hubbard to make Golson uncomfortable so the defense doesn't get caught looking on plays like it did against Manziel.
We've come to the end of an extremely fun picks season here on the SEC blog. There was no sophomore slump for the ATL Kid, while the old vet took a major hit to his picking credibility.

I just want to thank all of the fans out there who supported me this season. Being on the road and seeing all the love from readers who were looking for me to dethrone Chris was a great sight. I sensed that Chris was reeling early in the season (see the Florida-Tennessee game), and I pounced early and often.

I guess this cat-owning, soccer-loving youngster knows what he's talking about. Heading into our last prediction of the 2012 season, I own a 106-15 (.876) record after going 5-3 during the first round of bowl games. I missed on Mississippi State, Florida and LSU. Chris enters 99-22 (.818) after going 5-3 as well. The only difference we had was that he picked Mississippi State to lose to Northwestern, but he also picked Nebraska to beat Georgia.

Here's our final pick of the season, and it's for all the oranges ... and a beautiful crystal ball:


Chris Low: Everybody wants to compare scores when we get to the bowl season. For instance, the fact that LSU and Florida both laid eggs is supposed to suggest that Alabama is somehow vulnerable in this game. But what about the fact that Ole Miss trounced Pittsburgh, which lost in three overtimes to Notre Dame, or the fact that Alabama clobbered Michigan and Notre Dame beat the Wolverines 13-6? What matters is what happens at Sun Life Stadium on Monday night. Alabama is good enough up front offensively to deal with Notre Dame’s defensive front seven, which has been terrific all season. More importantly, the Tide will find a way to put the game on the shoulders of Notre Dame redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson and force him into some mistakes. It all adds up to Alabama’s third outright national title in the past four years and a place in college football history. ... Alabama 24, Notre Dame 13

Edward Aschoff: We get two hard-nosed, tough football teams down on South Beach tonight. Alabama brings in the nation's best offensive line, while Notre Dame owns one of the country's best front sevens. The Irish will try to use that up-tempo offense to keep Alabama's defense honest, while the Tide will try to wear Notre Dame down with their running game. In the end, that running game will be too much, as the Tide will grind away and quarterback AJ McCarron will hit some big plays over the top late, and the defense will contain Golson and force him to make too many mistakes. ... Alabama 27, Notre Dame 17

Alabama keys for BCS title game

January, 7, 2013
Sizing up the keys for Alabama on Monday night in its Discover BCS National Championship matchup with Notre Dame:

1. Make Golson a pocket passer: Alabama would like nothing more than to put the game on the shoulders of Notre Dame redshirt freshman Everett Golson and force him to be a pocket passer. Golson is completing 58.9 percent of his passes and has thrown just 11 touchdown passes this season. He’s at his best when he’s moving around and making plays, but Alabama will look to keep him in the pocket and put him in a lot of third-and-long situations. The Tide were successful in doing just that against Michigan’s Denard Robinson in the opener but struggled to contain Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and keep him from extending the play.

2. Protect the football: The only game the Crimson Tide lost this season, they turned it over three times. Not only that, but they didn’t force any turnovers themselves against Texas A&M in their 29-24 loss to the Aggies on Nov. 10. The great equalizer in this game will be if Alabama turns it over. It’s no coincidence that in the Crimson Tide’s five losses over the past four seasons, they’re minus-6 in turnover margin and turned it over at least twice in four of those five losses. If they take care of the football, they’ll be looking for a spot for another crystal trophy.

3. Striking from long distance: Notre Dame is excellent in its front seven on defense, and even with Alabama’s vaunted running game, the Crimson Tide aren’t just going to line up and run the football down the Irish’s throat the whole game. But softening up that Notre Dame defense with some big plays in the passing game (enter freshman receiver Amari Cooper) would go a long way toward opening up that running game and turning it into the ground-and-pound show we saw in the second half from Alabama in the SEC championship game.

Did you know? Notre Dame vs. Alabama

January, 4, 2013
We started this off last week. Here are some more nuggets courtesy of our friends at ESPN Stats and Info.
  • Notre Dame and Alabama have the most poll national championships since the Associated Press began its weekly poll in 1936. ESPN has made a policy of recognizing only poll-era national championships (since 1936). Both programs claim other national titles in the pre-AP era, but those are more difficult to legitimize, since there were several groups naming national champions back then, and hardly anyone watched teams from other regions of the country. The two teams have also met in bowl games that had national championship implications. Notre Dame beat Alabama in the 1973 Sugar Bowl to win the AP National Title. However, Alabama still won the UPI National title since it crowned its champion before bowl games were played. The next season, Notre Dame beat Alabama in the Orange Bowl to prevent Alabama for winning another national title. In all, Notre Dame and Alabama have played six times with the Irish holding a 5-1 edge. The two teams haven’t met since 1987.
  • Having already won in 2009 and 2011, Alabama is trying to win its third national championship in four years, which has been accomplished only twice in the poll era. Nebraska did it under Tom Osborne in 1994, 1995 and 1997, but the last of those titles was only in the coaches’ poll. The lone team to win three AP national championships in a four-year span was Notre Dame under Frank Leahy in 1946, ’47 and ’49. In addition, AJ McCarron and the Crimson Tide are trying to become the first program to win back-to-back BCS championships. Three previous reigning champs have returned to the title game, but all three lost in their quest to repeat. McCarron will also try to become the first quarterback to win consecutive BCS national championships, something that Chris Weinke (Florida State), Ken Dorsey (Miami FL), and Matt Leinart (USC) failed to do.
  • Alabama is trying to win the SEC’s seventh consecutive national championship. Prior to this stretch, no conference had ever won more than three in a row. It would be the ninth BCS title won by the SEC. All the other conferences have six combined and no other conference has more than two.
  • Alabama’s Nick Saban is the only coach with more than two BCS titles and is one of just 10 coaches with three or more national championships in the poll era. A win on Jan. 7 will put him in some very elite company, as only three coaches have won at least four national titles. The names: Bear Bryant, Frank Leahy and John McKay. Because Nick Saban spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, he is trying to win his fourth national title in his past eight seasons as a college head coach. Only Frank Leahy has managed to win four in even a 10-year span.
  • Four different coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the poll era (since 1936). All four of those coaches captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame. Brian Kelly is currently in his third season in South Bend.
  • Notre Dame is third all-time in wins with 865 while Alabama is seventh with 826. Both teams also rank in the top seven in win percentage. The two teams met head-to-head six times with Notre Dame winning five of them. However, they haven't met since 1987, a 37-6 Notre Dame win in South Bend.
  • The last time an SEC team lost a national championship game to a team from outside the conference was when Nebraska beat Florida in the Fiesta Bowl to end the 1995 season (’96 Fiesta Bowl). Since that time, the SEC has won eight straight bowl games against “outsiders” with a national championship on the line. (doesn’t count Alabama’s win over LSU last year)
  • This will be Saban’s ninth championship game as a head coach. He is 7-1 in the previous eight (3-0 in BCS title games, 4-1 in SEC title games). The only loss was to Florida in the 2008 SEC Championship.
  • Notre Dame is 6-0 in road/neutral games this season with the closest one being a nine-point win over USC. Even though the Irish were also 6-0 at home, five of those six games were decided by seven points or fewer. Alabama has only two losses over the last two years, and both were in Tuscaloosa. The Tide have won 13 consecutive games away from home, which is the longest such streak in the FBS.
  • The BCS championship games have been split seven apiece between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final standings, but No. 2 has won seven of the last 10.
  • These are the nation’s top two scoring defenses, with Notre Dame allowing 10.3 points per game, and Alabama allowing 10.7. Last year’s national championship game was also a matchup of the top two scoring defenses, as Bama beat LSU, 21-0. Prior to that, there hadn’t been such a meeting in the postseason since the 1994 season.
  • The Tide have scored 21 points or more in 44 of their last 45 games. That’s three more than any other team in the FBS over this span.
  • No sophomore or freshman starting QB had ever won the BCS National Championship until Alabama's McCarron did it last year as a sophomore. Now, Notre Dame redshirt freshman Everett Golson has his chance.
  • In 2007, Alabama went 7-6 in Saban’s first season, while Notre Dame sunk to a historic low, finishing 3-9. In 2008, Saban took the Tide to the SEC title game, while the Irish continued their mediocrity, going 7-6. Entering the 2012 season, these two teams couldn’t have been more opposite in terms of success over the previous four years.
  • This will be the first time since 2006 that Notre Dame finishes a season in the AP Top 25, so it’s not surprising that the Irish weren’t ranked in this year’s preseason AP poll. They are the first preseason unranked team to reach a BCS championship game, and they are the first preseason unranked team to finish the regular season as AP No. 1 since BYU in 1984.
  • The last preseason unranked team to win a national championship was Georgia Tech in the coaches’ poll in 1990. The last team to do it in the AP poll (as Notre Dame can only do this season) was BYU in 1984.

Next Level: Alabama vs Notre Dame

December, 6, 2012
Here are some early Next Level stats from ESPN Stats & Information for the Discover BCS National Championship between No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) and No. 2 Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC):
  • Alabama is averaging 6.2 yards per carry on designed running plays this season, the highest average in the SEC. On these runs, the Tide are averaging an SEC-best 4.2 yards before contact. They have made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage without being touched on 35.1 percent of their designed runs.
  • Alabama runs downhill with 67.4 percent of its designed running plays coming between the tackles. The Tide average 6.6 yards per carry on such running plays with about one in every five attempts going for at least 10 yards.
  • On designed running plays, Alabama averaged 9.0 yards per rush inside the tackles against Georgia, its second-highest average in a game this season. The Tide have averaged over 7 yards per attempt on such plays since the loss to Texas A&M. Speaking of the loss to the Aggies, Alabama finished that game with a season-low 66 yards on designed runs inside tackles.
  • Alabama ran 36 times for a season-high 298 yards with two or more tight ends in the formation against Georgia. The Tide ran out of this personnel package on 26 of their 34 second-half plays, gaining 199 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama averaged a season-high 5.5 yards before contact out of this formation.
  • AJ McCarron has completed 70.8 percent of his passes this season with two or more tight ends in the formation, including eight of nine attempts against Georgia in the SEC Championship. With this personnel grouping, McCarron has five touchdowns, including his 45-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper against Georgia, and no interceptions.
  • McCarron has 11 touchdown passes off play action this season. That is six more than he had all of last season. He has not thrown an interception off play action since the loss to LSU last November. That was the only game in McCarron’s career that he had more interceptions than touchdowns off play action.
  • McCarron has attempted 56.6 percent of his first-down passes off play action this season. Nine of his 11 play-action touchdowns have come on first down.
  • McCarron is completing over 60 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or longer this season, an increase of more than 25 percentage points from last season. Play action has been the key. McCarron is completing 76.2 percent of such passes off play action this season, including eight of his 11 touchdowns.
  • Alabama and Notre Dame rank 1-2 in the nation in scoring defense this season. The Tide have allowed the fewest yards per game (246.0) and plays that have gained 10 yards or more (105). The Irish, on the other hand, have given up the fewest touchdowns (10) and allowed the lowest percentage of opponent’s possessions to end in a touchdown (6.9).
  • Notre Dame’s defense excels at limiting touchdowns. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions this season, the lowest percentage for any FBS defense in the last eight seasons. The second-lowest percentage was last season’s Alabama team that produced six defensive players selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
  • Red-zone defense has been key for the Irish. They have allowed a touchdown on 24.2 percent of their opponents’ red-zone drives, the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons. Overall, Irish opponents have eight touchdowns and five turnovers in 33 red-zone possessions.
  • Alabama has allowed the fewest yards per game (246.0) and rush yards per game (79.8) in the nation this season. The key has been limiting yards big plays. The Tide have allowed the fewest plays (105) and rushes (27) that have gained 10 yards or more.
  • Alabama has scored 160 points off turnovers this season, the most in the SEC and the fourth most in FBS. The Tide have given up 23 points off turnovers, tied with South Carolina for the fewest in the SEC and the third fewest in FBS.
  • Notre Dame has given up eight touchdowns in 33 red-zone possessions (24.2 percent) this season, including one in four possessions against USC. That is the lowest touchdown percentage for any FBS defense in the last eight seasons. The key has been great defense in goal-to-go situations. The Irish have allowed -5 total yards on 39 such plays, the fewest yards and average in the nation.
  • Notre Dame’s defense will be challenged by an Alabama offense that leads the SEC with 124 rush yards and 24 rush touchdowns in goal-to-go situations. The Tide have also had success throwing the ball in these situations with six touchdowns in 13 attempts. Yet, two of McCarron’s three interceptions this season were in goal-to-go.
  • Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has completed at least two-thirds of his passes from inside the pocket in each of his last three games. It is the longest such streak in his career. Golson has four touchdowns and no interceptions during the three games. That matches his touchdown total from the pocket in his first eight games of the season.
  • Golson completed 10 of 16 passes thrown 10 yards or longer against USC. It was his third straight game in which he completed at least 60 percent of such passes. Before this stretch, Golson had never completed 60 percent of his 10-yard throws in two consecutive games.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray completed 7-of-14 passes thrown 15 yards or longer against Alabama in the SEC Championship. Murray’s seven completions were the most such passes completed against the Tide in the last three seasons. Georgia was the third straight FBS team and the fourth in the last five games to complete at least half of its passes thrown 15 yards or longer against Alabama. Before this stretch, no team had completed half of such passes in a game against Alabama since Cam Newton did it in the 2010 Iron Bowl.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)

Jan. 7, 8:30 p.m. ET, Miami (ESPN)

Notre Dame take from Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna: Haven't you heard? Notre Dame is back. No, not BCS-bowl back. BCS national title game back.

The No. 1 Irish ran the table in the regular season and are the only bowl-eligible team left that is spotless in the loss column. They navigated a tough stretch featuring opponents from five BCS conferences and two independents. And now they will get one more chance to prove this was no fluke on Jan. 7, when they take on a team from the one conference they have yet to face in 2012: the SEC, winners of the past six national titles.

The key for Notre Dame all season has been the defense, which gives up just 10.33 points per game and has surrendered just 10 touchdowns all season long, with one of those scores coming from the opposing team's defense (Stanford). The Irish showed their toughness in the trenches by utilizing goal-line stands to hold off a pair of Pac-12 opponents in Stanford and USC, and their offense has started to come along after some early-season missteps.

Redshirt freshman Everett Golson went the final three games without getting yanked for performance issues, and he has turned the ball over just once during that stretch. He has been aided by a ground game averaging 202.5 yards per game, and he has flashed his ability to run much more as the season has progressed. He has rushed for 316 yards in his last seven games after netting negative-11 yards on the ground through his first four outings, in which he was benched twice in favor of Tommy Rees.

Speaking of rushing … good luck moving the ball on the ground against this defense. Notre Dame ranks fifth nationally against the run, surrendering just 92.42 yards per game. The Irish did not give up a rushing touchdown until the eighth game of the season, against Oklahoma's Blake Bell. Heisman candidate Manti Te'o gets much of the attention, and he deserves every bit of it, but don't overlook future early-round draft picks Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt up front.

For all the national talk about the SEC, America probably won't see something much further from last year's title game, as the Irish fit the blueprint of a successful SEC team this season.

Alabama take by TideNation's Alex Scarborough: Believe it or not, the Crimson Tide are finishing the season right where they started. Despite losing eight starters to the NFL draft in April -- including three first-rounders and one Heisman Trophy finalist -- the expectation for Nick Saban's squad remained "BCS or bust" with a preseason No. 2 ranking. After beating Georgia to win the SEC championship on Saturday night, No. 2 is where Alabama will finish in the final BCS Standings of the season.

The talent in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was never in question. Five straight top-3 recruiting classes filled the coffers, and the coaching staff used their young players wisely, incorporating a pair of potential Freshmen All-Americans in running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. With junior AJ McCarron under center again, the offense has gone to new heights.

The defense rallied around a handful of veterans to maintain its top-dog status. Alabama led the country in total defense for the second straight season after losing stars like Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick , Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower. A fresh set of leaders emerged to reinvent the Alabama defense as something possibly less dominant, but more stingy. The Tide created more takeaways and sacks than a year ago, and practiced a bend-but-don't-break mindset in the biggest games.

Like last season, Alabama's path to the national championship game was not without a speed bump, and this time it wasn't LSU blocking the Tide's way. A week after surviving Death Valley and the LSU Tigers, Alabama was shocked at home by freshman phenom Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies, dropping the Tide out of the title race from No. 1 to No. 4 in the BCS Standings. A week later, No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon fell on the same night, paving Alabama's way back to Miami.

Alabama assured itself a berth in the title game by beating No. 3 Georgia in remarkable fashion, surviving an SEC-title record five lead changes. It was the Tide's fourth win against a ranked team this season. Net up is a chance for a fifth, against No. 1 Notre Dame. Alabama will be the seventh consecutive SEC team to compete in the BCS National Championship Game. It's Alabama's third trip to the title game in four years.