With the national championship between Alabama and Notre Dame over and done with, it is time to look ahead to next season. You bet, there is no fun living in the present; it is always better trying to predict the future anyway.
In the month of January, only one day removed from the college football season, who would you pick between Alabama and Notre Dame to reach next year’s national championship?
Only a fool would pick Notre Dame after last night, but the Irish deserve a fair shot to reach the big game next season. While the majority of the money would be on the Crimson Tide to not only reach the national championship but win it again next year, Notre Dame deserves about a 35 percent chance to earn a bid back to college football’s most attractive game.
If Alabama was able to win the national title this season with all of the questions it had heading into the opening weekend, there should be little doubt that it can happen again next year.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron is returning for his senior season, and if he plays anything like he did this year, Alabama should have little issues moving the ball on offense. Having an experienced and accomplished quarterback gives the Tide a huge advantage over other teams that may be trying to make a championship run in 2013, Notre Dame included.
McCarron will also have countless weapons around him including Amari Cooper, Cyrus Jones and true-freshman running back Derrick Henry, who will be on campus soon. Really, the only cause for concern on offense will be the offensive line, but Saban has proved time and time again that he can replace future NFL prospects with the next top lineman.
Defensively, the Tide will have issues in the secondary and Saban must make it a goal to find that one defensive lineman that can really stand out and create nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. But even with the tweaking that will need to be done on the defense, Alabama has far less questions on this side of the ball than it did this past season. And even then, the unit was still ranked the best in college football in total yards allowed.
For Notre Dame, you have to like the direction in which this team is heading offensively. Everett Golson appears to be the real deal and should be able to use his feet more next year. Regardless if running back Cierre Wood leaves for the NFL or not, USC transfer Amir Carlisle should receive a lot of touches next season. For those not familiar with his work, take a look at some of his high school highlights and see why Irish fans should be excited.
The Irish will unfortunately lose linebacker Manti Te'o, but they have a solid defensive line returning that is anchored by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix. Both players will be high on NFL draft boards heading into next year and will also get help from upcoming sophomore Sheldon Day, who was productive in a limited role this season. The young secondary should also continue to blossom with many underclassmen receiving unexpected playing time due to various injuries throughout the defensive backfield.
Overall, the Irish are losing a few key players on both sides of the ball, but this is a young team that should remain intact for the most part. In fact, the lack of experience on this team may have played a big role in why so many games this season were closer than they should have been against sub-par competition. That should improve with a full offseason and preparation for next year.
So why is Alabama the favorite over Notre Dame for next season when both rosters look good?
Besides being led by a head coach that has won three of the last four championships and having a roster that is arguably the most talented in the country, the schedule also seems to favor Alabama.
Notre Dame will have another tough slate ahead that includes road games against Michigan and Stanford. Not to mention the usual matchups against USC and Michigan State, a game against Oklahoma and a prime-time matchup against Arizona State on a neutral field.
Alabama starts the year off with contests against Virginia Tech and a road game against Texas A&M, but gets Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU all in Tuscaloosa.
Even with that said, this season showed just what a schedule means on paper. Notre Dame could strike gold again with a few of its opponents failing to reach expectations.
We may be many months away from the college football season kicking off, but Alabama is already the overwhelming favorite to repeat as national champs for the third consecutive season. However, don't sleep on a Notre Dame club that will be mighty motivated when the new year arrives.