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No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame: Rose Bowl preview, picks against the spread

Nick Bromberg
·4-min read

Rose Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

Time: 4 p.m. (Jan. 1) | TV: ESPN | Line: Alabama -20 | Total: 65.5

Arlington, Texas, College Football Playoff semifinal

How these teams got here

Alabama (11-0): Alabama is beating teams by an average of 30 points per game. The Crimson Tide are second in the country at 49.7 points scored per game and 17th in the country in giving up 19.5 points per game. The Crimson Tide’s only one-score came game in the SEC championship game against Florida in that 52-46 win after Florida scored late to easily cover the spread. Alabama has otherwise been dominant and had a stretch from Oct. 31-Dec. 12 when it went 5-0 and outscored opponents 253-36. Alabama is a buzzsaw and that’s why it’s favored by nearly three touchdowns in this game.

That buzzsaw is powered by QB Mac Jones and WR DeVonta Smith. The two Heisman finalists make up the best QB-WR combination in college football. Jones is 250-of-327 passing for 3,739 yards and 32 TDs to just four interceptions while Smith has 98 catches for 1,511 yards and 17 TDs.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Mac Jones #10 celebrates the victory with wide receiver DeVonta Smith #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at the conclusion of the game against the Florida Gators during the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 19, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith are the best QB-WR combination in college football. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Notre Dame (10-1): The Irish made the playoff on the heels of a strong regular season. Yeah, the season didn’t end with an ACC championship after Clemson won the rematch between the two schools, but Notre Dame’s impressive season can’t be ignored because of that loss.

The Irish had just two games that were won by a single score. The first was a 12-7 slog that felt like a blowout against Louisville and the other was that 47-40 double-overtime win over Clemson in November. Notre Dame also took care of North Carolina, Boston College and Pitt throughout the course of 2020 and has given up fewer than 19 points per game along the way.

Players to know

Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams: QB Ian Book has deserved the plaudits he’s received for leading the Notre Dame offense in 2020. But Williams’ contributions should not go unnoticed. The sophomore has rushed 195 times for 1,061 yards and scored 13 TDs in 2020. He’s topped the 100-yard mark in six of Notre Dame’s 10 games and rushed for 185 yards against Florida State.

Williams hasn’t scored in Notre Dame’s last two games, however. A 100-yard effort and a score or two will go a long way to helping Notre Dame keep this one close against the Crimson Tide. If Alabama keeps Williams in check and out of the end zone, Notre Dame could be in serious trouble.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) hands off to running back Kyren Williams (23) during the third quartero of the team's NCAA college football game against Syracuse on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in South Bend, Ind. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)
Kyren Williams has been one of the most productive running backs in college football in 2020. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)

Alabama WR John Metchie: You know about Jones and Smith and you also know about RB Najee Harris, the guy who finished fifth in the Heisman voting this year after scoring 27 TDs in 11 games. That’s why we’re going to focus on Metchie, the man who has emerged as Alabama’s No. 2 wide receiver in Jaylen Waddle’s absence.

If Notre Dame tries to take away Smith — something that no team has been able to do in 2020 — then Metchie should take advantage. He’s had at least four catches in each of Alabama’s last four games and has 44 receptions for 782 yards and six touchdowns this season. The sophomore is a dynamic playmaker in his own right and would be the top receiving option on dozens of Power Five teams. Instead, he started the season as Alabama’s No. 3 receiving target and moved to No. 2 after Waddle went down against Tennessee.

What’s on the line

Alabama: The Crimson Tide are looking for a fifth national title game appearance since the dawn of the College Football Playoff. Alabama’s only semifinal loss came at the end of the 2014 season, when Ohio State upset the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Another win could set up a fifth matchup between Alabama and Clemson in the playoff and the fourth game between the two teams for the national title.

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish last played Alabama with a national title on the line at the end of the 2012 season. We don’t need to remind Notre Dame fans how that turned out. The Irish’s lone CFP appearance, a loss to Clemson in the 2018 semis, didn’t go much better. The Irish are going for their first national title since 1988, when Lou Holtz’s team went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl. A win would also go a long way to further cementing Brian Kelly’s status as one of the most successful Notre Dame coaches ever.

Picks

Nick Bromberg: Alabama -20

Sam Cooper: Notre Dame +20

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