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College Football Weekend Preview: Alabama, Your National Champs

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College Football Weekend Preview: Alabama, Your National Champs

On a Saturday when the Packers are participating in the playoffs, college football isn't going to move the needle in Green Bay and among Packers fans.

Hopefully, at least the Birmingham Bowl will tide football fans over at midday before Saturday's Wildcard action begins.

But on Monday, all the football-watching world's attention will be on the BCS national championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama, which is where we begin our analysis.

Despite being undefeated, Notre Dame is the underdog to one-loss Alabama, the champion of a conference that's won the past six BCS title games and is the reigning national champions.

It's difficult to deny the talent at Alabama. They've got five offensive linemen who will probably be starters in the NFL, and they're a big reason the two-headed monster of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon has been so effective on the ground.

On the defensive side, there's elite talent littered all over as well, including cornerback Dee Milliner and defensive tackle Jesse Williams. There's no reason to think they shouldn't be able to stop a Notre Dame offense that ranks just 48th in the nation.

The one reason to believe the Notre Dame offense could move the ball on the Alabama defense comes from the piece of evidence turned in on Oct. 27 when the Irish handled Oklahoma on the road. A balanced offense racked up 403 yards against a Sooners D that offered little resistance.

There's no doubt the Irish front seven is the strength of the team. Led by linebacker Manti Te'o and a group of defensive linemen including Stephen Tuitt, Louis Nix and Kapron Lewis-Moore, they should be able to mitigate the damage done by the Alabama offnese.

Prediction: The Irish defense will keep Notre Dame in a low-scoring game, but Alabama's more well-rounded. They'll have at least one touchdown on the ground, one through the air, and perhaps one on either defense or special teams. 21-13, Roll Tide.

 

Quick Bowl Previews

Birmingham Bowl*, Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss, 12:00 p.m. on ESPN

The skinny: Former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst overcame a rough start to the season, and just becoming bowl-eligible was an accomplishment in itself. Pitt won't be happy to be playing their third Birmingham Bowl in a row, but better bowls are on the horizon. Another first year coach, Hugh Freeze did a good job to get Mississippi qualified for a bowl game without a lot of star power. Just imagine what he can do once he gets a few recruiting classes.

Mississippi 2013 NFL Draft prospect to watch: Running back Randall Mackey––A former quarterback, Mackey began the season as a running back but also saw time at wide receiver when Jeff Scott emerged as the top option in the backfield. Mackey isn't an elite talent, but the athleticism to play quarterback, running back and receiver will be enough for some NFL  team to at least give him a look.

Pitt 2013 NFL Draft prospect to watch: Running back Ray Graham––Graham has ran for over 900 yards for three consecutive seasons even though his per rush average has dipped from 6.2 to 5.9 to 4.7 as a senior. He doesn't have a lot size at 5-9 and under 200 lbs., but he's a good receiver out of the backfield with at least 30 catches in each of the past two years.

Prediction: When in doubt, go with the SEC team. 28-27, Hotty Toddy.

Mobile Bowl*, Arkansas State vs. Kent State, 8:00 p.m. CT Sunday on ESPN

The skinny: With two NFL playoff games in the rearview mirror, the Mobile Bowl wraps up Sunday's action and don't overlook these two schools. They might not be name-brand programs, but this game at least features a conference champion (Arkansas State) and a ranked team (No. 25 Kent State). Each team will be without its coach as the Red Wolves lost Gus Malzahn to Auburn and the Golden Flashes lost Darrell Hazell to Purdue, so it's tough to determine if either team will be properly motivated.

Arkansas State NFL Draft prospect to watch: Quarterback Ryan Aplin––Aplin was the Sun Belt's Offensive Player of the Year for two consecutive years. He's a little undersized at 6-0, but he has a lot of experience dropping back to pass, really learned to limit his interceptions as a senior and has decent mobility. Aplin probably won't be drafted, but it wouldn't be surprising to see some team give him a shot in training camp.

Kent State NFL Draft prospect to watch: Tackle Brian Winters––Regular readers might remember our exclusive interview with Winters back in September. He's been an integral part of the resurgence of Kent State and has earned an invite the Senior Bowl. He's a left tackle for Kent State, but he faces a tall task to prove he can play that same position at the next level.

Prediction: Aplin is battle tested. He'll lead the Red Wolves to a victory, 36-25.

 

The Wisconsin Connection

The Badgers might have lost the Rose Bowl to Stanford, 20-13, but they acquitted themselves rather nicely. This was a Stanford team that won the Pac-12 and upset one-loss Oregon. Wisconsin kept it close and gave itself a chance to win. You can't ask for more.

Considering Wisconsin shouldn't have been playing in the Rose Bowl to begin with due to the ineligibility of Ohio State, the 2012 season actually turned out pretty good. They got rid of a coach who didn't want to be there to begin with, they were in every game they lost, and you can't overlook the boost in visibility the Rose Bowl provides. Players should want to come to a school that's played in three consecutive Grandaddy's.

The Gary Andersen era now gets underway, and while Ohio State poses a significant threat in upcoming years, there's no reason Wisconsin shouldn't be able to compete for division titles.

On Thursday, Wisconsin junior center Travis Fredrick announced he was declaring for the NFL Draft.

I'm far from being known as an offensive line guru, but the CFWP opinion is that Fredrick actually had a better season as a guard in 2011 than he did as a center in 2012. That being said, there could be several explanations.

It's very likely Fredrick was surrounded by better talent in 2011, which made the whole team look better. And perhaps he's simply just a better guard than center, and perhaps he'll be more likely to play guard in the NFL.

There's not a big-time market for centers in the NFL Draft. Last year only five true centers were drafted at all, and only one as high as the second round, Wisconsin's Peter Konz.

From what I've read, Frederick is highly-regarded in scouting circles, and it's possible that another year in college would have done little to either help or hurt his stock.

At the very minimum, he has experience at both guard and center, which makes him a versatile commodity. We'll find out more about Fredrick as the path to the Draft unfurls.

 

What Happened Before Saturday

Johnny Manziel showed why he was the Heisman Trophy winner Friday evening in the Cotton Bowl as Texas A&M cruised to a 41-13 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners.

It really was a masterful performance by Manziel who ran for 229 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. If that wasn't enough, he completed 22 of 34 passed for 289 yards and two more touchdowns. Manziel almost made it look easy.

There's no doubt Manziel is an athletic freak. It's his running ability that made him so flashy, his ability to escape the rush and either dash down a sideline or weave his way through would-be tacklers.

But coach Kevin Sumlin really has done a good job with Manziel and his ability to throw the ball downfield. He showed a patience to allow receivers to get open on Friday night as well as a timing to hit them on comeback routes, a talent that's almost beyond his years.

By the time he gets to the NFL, which won't be for a few years, Manziel will have to tighten up his throwing motion, but he has time to work on that.

The way the NFL is headed with the read-option finding its way to the professional game and guys like Chip Kelly getting head-coaching gigs, Manziel could be doing similar things on Sundays in the future.

*I abhor the use of sponsor names for bowls. You'll only find the traditional names to original concepts for bowl names here.

Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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