Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
When No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama face off in the Discover BCS Championship game in just over two weeks, one thing will be clear: both teams earned their ticket to Miami, and deservedly so.
Many on both fronts will claim that the other benefited from a light schedule and that they merely backed their way into the title game, but that is simply not the case. Neither team had an easy road by any means to make it to where they are now.
The Fighting Irish had to come up with late goal line stands against Stanford and USC, while the Crimson Tide had to outlast LSU and Georgia with late-game heroics from freshman standouts.
To say that one team had more impressive victories throughout the season over the other is an argument that can never truly be won as both teams faced different, yet equally demanding competition.
There was, however, one similar opponent on each team’s schedule this year: Michigan.
The Wolverines — one of only a few schools that can match both Notre Dame and Alabama with its rich college football history — saw both the Fighting Irish and Crimson Tide early on in their 2012 campaign.
In the season-opening Cowboys Classic in Dallas on Sept. 1, the then-No. 8 Wolverines took a thorough beating from the Crimson Tide en route to a 41-14 defeat. Three weeks later on Sept. 22, the Irish narrowly escaped with a 13-6 win at home over the Wolverines.
Based off score line alone, it is a no-brainer that Alabama beat Michigan better than Notre Dame did, but that can only be taken with a grain of salt. The final score of a game never tells the whole story as to what took place in a game. Each game is unique in its own way, no matter if a similar opponent is played. In fact, in many cases, the final score is misleading.
Statistically, Alabama dominated Michigan. On offense, the Tide racked up 431 total yards, including 232 rushing yards. On defense, the Tide held the Wolverines to just 269 yards of offense.
One of the keys to the game coming in for Alabama was keeping Michigan’s dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson in check and that’s exactly what they did. Robinson threw for only 200 yards on 11 of 26 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. On the ground, he was held to 27 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries.
It should be noted that the little offensive success Michigan did have that day came largely after Alabama took their largest lead of the game at 31-0 with just under five minutes to play in the first half. At that point, the game was a glorified scrimmage for the Tide.
For Notre Dame, their stats against Michigan do little to help their case. Although they led in the most important statistical category – the score – few other statistics speak in their favor. The Irish were outgained 299 to 239 on offense, including 161 to 94 running the ball. The Wolverines also had more first downs (19 to 14), a better third down efficiency (8 of 15 to 3 of 9), and a greater time of possession (33:19 to 26:41).
So how did the Wolverines manage to lose?
That can be attributed largely in part to turning the ball over six times on offense. In fairness, give credit to the Irish for forcing six turnovers. The fact of the matter though is that only scoring 13 points after forcing six turnovers and still having to come up big on defense in the fourth quarter is difficult to defend.
On the other hand, the Irish did turn the ball over twice themselves on two interceptions from young redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson, who was playing in just his fourth career game for the Irish, but regardless, an anemic offensive display of that caliber is next to inexcusable when your defense forces that many turnovers for you, especially when you are the home team.
In fact, the Notre Dame offense was so poor that day, Golson was benched midway through the second quarter in favor of junior backup Tommy Rees, who was better, but only marginally. Granted, Golson has since played much better, but there is still work to be done to be on the same level as say, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who leads the nation in passer efficiency.
Additionally like Alabama, and any team that faces Michigan for that matter, one of their keys to the game was also containing Robinson. Robinson threw for 138 yards on 13 of 24 passing with zero touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for 90 yards on 26 carries with a long of 20. After the game, Robinson said it was the worst game of his career.
Overall, Michigan was probably a better team when they played Notre Dame than they were when they played Alabama. Some may even go as far as to say that if the weeks in which they played were switched, the results would have been different. Would a less experienced Golson playing in his first collegiate game really be any better than he was though?
With all of this having been said, based solely off both team’s performances against Michigan, Alabama is the better team. The game was virtually over by the end of the first quarter with the Tide leading 21-0. On the other hand, the Irish had to run out the clock with three minutes left to play to preserve a victory in a game that should have been nowhere near as close as it was.
All stats and comparisons aside, we’ll find out who the better team is on Jan. 7 in Miami.