Friday, November 30, 2012

Notre Dame Punches Their Ticket To Miami, And Georgia-'Bama Battle To Be Top Dog In The SEC- It's Your Championship Week College Football Talk With Chooch

I don’t claim to be a lifetime fan of Notre Dame. My fanhood began in earnest once I was accepted to the university back in April 2006. Back then, ND was coming off a resurgent 2005 season, one that had ostensibly “woken the echoes” once again for Notre Dame football. The team was a pre-season #2 and the student body as well as the ND fanbase everywhere was full of optimism. But all those dreams came crashing down in week 3 at home against Michigan, when ND suffered a 47-21 beatdown that wasn’t even as close as that score indicates. The last week of the season, ND was killed again by USC, and then once again was killed in the Sugar Bowl by LSU. The results of these games revealed an uncomfortable truth for ND fans: their team simply did not have the athletic ability to compete with the elite of college football.

The next three years of the Charlie Weis did nothing to dispel this myth. Now, ND had bad coaching to go along with its lack of NFL talent. Even when Brian Kelly was hired, he produced some dumbfounding losses in 2010 (to Navy and Tulsa), along with the unspeakable collapse at Michigan in week 2 of 2011 (the sheer absurdity of which led to the only time I’ve ever been cut-off at a bar). The 2007-2011 seasons seemed like a torturous March towards the nadir of Notre Dame football, from which it would never recover.

Behind the scenes, however, Brian Kelly was laying the foundation for future success. What has made Kelly such a success in his 20 years of college coaching has been the mental and physical toughness he instills in his team. That was a process, not evident in his first two seasons, but something that fully took hold over this 2012 squad and will be present going forward. In addition, ND’s recruiting on the defensive side of the ball, particularly on the front 7, was elevated to SEC levels. That is how games are won.

Nevertheless, it’s incredible to watch this process come to a head and result in a magical dream season for the Irish. Before the season, no one, including myself, could have envisioned this 12-0 season. Along the way, Notre Dame was supposed to get exposed. Michigan State was going to bring them back down to earth. Oklahoma was going to expose the patchwork Irish secondary, which features 3 former offensive players. USC was going to do the same. Each week, ND answered the bell, and will play for a national championship January 7th. Simply unbelievable.

Now let’s preview the weekend’s big games, most of which are conference championships.

SEC Championship- (3) Georgia vs. (2) Alabama: Two years before college football gets 4 team playoff, we get a de facto national semifinal game this weekend in Atlanta when Georgia takes on Alabama for the SEC title. Many in the college football world believe that the SEC team playing the best football right now is Florida, but the Gators lost to Georgia 17-9 in Jacksonville in a mistake-riddled game that saw 6 Florida turnovers. So, we are left with the Bulldogs in the title game even though they’ve played a downright awful schedule this season. Alabama is here as expected, although most didn’t envision a loss at home to Texas A & M. The difference in this game will be line play. Bama’s oline is the best in the country, but its dline has struggled to get a consistent pass rush, which will hurt against Georgia QB Aaron Murray and his talented receivers. The winner will advance to play Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game (I can’t believe I just wrote that).

ACC Championship- Florida State vs. Georgia Tech: This game was made much less compelling after FSU’s loss to Florida last week and the fact that Miami and North Carolina are both ineligible due to bowl bans. Instead, the 6-6 Yellow Jackets get this spot. ACC football needs a lift, and this type of title game isn’t it.

Pac 12 Championship- UCLA at Stanford: The Pac 12 title game is played at the home stadium of the higher-seeded team. This game actually features a rematch from last week, so it’s hard to tell how much of the playbook UCLA showed (UCLA was in the title game regardless of last week’s results). Stanford brings a tough, physical style to the Pac 12, and only has 2 losses coming in, at Washington, and an OT loss at Notre Dame on a goal line stand. Winner goes to their first Rose Bowl in seemingly forever.

Big Ten Championship- Wisconsin vs. Nebraska: Another game marred by sanctions. 12-0 Ohio State would be in this game if it weren’t on probation. Instead, we get 7-5 Wisconsin. Nebraska should win this game but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an inspired effort from the Badgers.

Texas at Kansas State: KSU’s title hope are dashed, but they can still win the Big 12 and go to the Fiesta Bowl with a win over Texas.

Heisman preview to come next week.


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