The question has been posed several times in recent weeks: “So, who do you like in the Notre Dame-Alabama national championship game?”
They might as well have been asking who I like in a matchup of Hitler vs. Stalin. Or Yankees vs. Red Sox. Or Pauly D vs. The Situation. Anyway you look at it, it’s evil vs. evil (or, in the case of the latter, douchebag vs. douchebag).
Let’s start with my lifelong disdain for Notre Dame. No, it has nothing to do with religion—hell, I married a Catholic—and everything to do with the insufferable pretentiousness and (phony) righteousness that Fighting Irish diehards seem to pass down the family tree like hair color and height. There’s no in-between: You either love Notre Dame or loathe Notre Dame. I loathe it (so much so that I’ve never even seen Rudy).
As for Alabama, look, there are only two kinds of people who should pull for the Crimson Tide in the Nick Saban era: those with deep roots in Tuscaloosa and Saban’s blood relatives (and even then I’m sure there’s a cousin or two who think he’s a huge prick).
Yep, for me, watching Notre Dame and Alabama battle for the national title will be as painful as natural childbirth. (Calm down—I said as painful, not more painful!) Which is why I’m more grateful than ever to live in a state where sports betting is legal, because the only way I can stomach this game is with a ticket in my back pocket. The best news? The betting value lies not with either side, but with the total—meaning I don’t have to root for either team!
My logic for playing $330 on Alabama-Notre Dame “under” 41½ points (the second straight year my BCS title game best bet has been the “under”):
• Notre Dame, which yielded nine offensive touchdowns all season, leads the nation in scoring defense at 10.3 points per game; Alabama is next at 10.7 ppg. When it comes to total defense, the Crimson Tide rank first (246 yards per game); the Irish are fifth (288.1 ypg).
• Alabama’s offense topped 30 points in 11 of its 13 games. Not bad … until you realize only once in those 11 games did the Tide run up against a legitimately stout defense. That was the 32-28 victory over Georgia in the SEC title game—a game in which ’Bama had just 10 points late in the third quarter. Against LSU and Texas A&M, the Tide produced just 21 and 24 points, respectively (and in each case Alabama scored late fourth-quarter TDs, including with 51 seconds left to beat LSU).
• Notre Dame’s offense was about as potent as an octogenarian, tallying more than 22 points just five times. Against the four best defenses they faced—Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford and BYU—the Irish produced 20, 13, 20 (including seven in overtime) and 17 points.
• Three of the last four BCS championship games have stayed “under”—and way “under” at that. In 2008, Florida beat Oklahoma 24-14 (the total was 69); two years later, Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 (the total was 73½); and last year, Alabama beat LSU 21-0 (the total was 41). The consensus theory for this low-scoring trend? The excruciatingly long layoff between the end of the regular season and the time the title game kicks off. (Why the BCS hasn’t hit up 5-Hour Energy as a title sponsor, I have no clue.)
Put it this way: Oklahoma (with Sam Bradford) and Florida (with Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin) combined for just 38 points in a BCS title game, while Auburn (with Cam Newton) and Oregon (with Darron Thomas and LaMichael James) produced just 41 points. Meaning, for these two defensive-oriented squads to combine for six touchdowns, we’re going to have to see quadruple-overtime. (Uh-oh!)
On to my remaining bowl selections (Note: all odds are as Dec. 21) …
$110 on Kansas State-Oregon UNDER 75½: OK, justifying Notre Dame-Alabama “under” was easy. Justifying the “under” in the Fiesta Bowl is more difficult than making a case for Mark Sanchez as NFL MVP. After all, Kansas State and Oregon combined to average 91.5 points and 961 yards per game in 2012. Lost in those gaudy numbers, though, are some very impressive defensive statistics. For instance, if you eliminate two poor efforts against Baylor (a 52-24 loss) and Oklahoma State (a 44-30 win), K-State held its other eight opponents to an average of 20 ppg.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s defense fell apart just once this season (a 62-51 win at USC). Oh, sure, the Ducks gave up 34 points to Arkansas State in the opener … after racing out to a 50-3 lead. And they surrendered 25 to Fresno State the very next week … in a game that was 35-6 at halftime. In other words, aside from USC, most of Oregon’s opponents got the bulk of their points in garbage time against second- and third-stringers (as it is, the Ducks still held seven of their final 10 foes to 21 points or less).
Finally, there’s the long layoff factor—Oregon hasn’t played since Nov. 24, while K-State has been idle since Dec. 1. Perhaps that’s why two of the Ducks’ last three bowl games have stayed low (including a 22-19 loss to Auburn in the BCS championship game in this very stadium two years ago). And why Collin Klein and the Wildcats managed just two touchdowns and a safety last year in a 29-16 Cotton Bowl loss to Arkansas (when the total was 65).
$110 on Pittsburgh +3½ vs. Mississippi: Rule No. 26 in the handicapper’s handbook: “Never back a Big East team vs. an SEC team in a bowl game unless you’re at least catching double digits … and even then, proceed with extreme caution.” Of course, I believe someone once said rules were meant to be broken. Part of the reason I like the Panthers is they went 4-2 down the stretch, the only losses coming at Notre Dame (29-26 in triple overtime) and at Connecticut (24-17 the very next week in an obvious flat spot). Part of the reason is third-year Pitt QB Tino Sunseri has had a phenomenal senior season (19 TDs vs. 2 INTs). Part of the reason is Ole Miss didn’t beat anybody this year; the Rebels’ victories were against Central Arkansas, Texas-El Paso, Tulane, Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State (the latter being the only one of the bunch that qualified for a bowl).
But the biggest reason? First-year Pitt coach Paul Chryst, who previously spent seven years as an assistant at Wisconsin, turned down the opportunity to return to Madison last month to take over for former boss Bret Bielema (who bolted for Arkansas). Call me sappy, but I believe the Panthers—who have been through five coaches (including interims) since 2010—would love nothing more than to reward their leader for his loyalty.
BEST OF THE REST: Jan. 3: Kansas State +9 vs. Oregon ($66). Jan. 4: Oklahoma +4½ vs. Texas A&M ($55). Jan. 6: Arkansas State -4 vs. Kent State ($55).
NFL Playoffs: Seahawks -3 at Redskins ($110); Bengals +41Ž2 at Texans ($66); Colts-Ravens OVER 47 ($55); Ravens -61Ž2 vs. Colts ($44).