Notre Dame vs. Ohio State: Who Would Come Out On Top?

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This past weekend in college football added much more clarity to the BCS picture; it is now safe to assume that No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) will occupy one spot in the BCS Championship, while No. 2 Alabama (12-1), winner of the SEC Championship, will take the other. If not for a few college kids in desperate need of tattoos, however, the BCS picture would look completely different.

As a result of the one-year bowl ban imposed by the NCAA, the Ohio State Buckeyes will not be offered the second spot in the BCS Championship, despite their perfect season (assuming they would win the Big Ten Championship). If Ohio State never received its sanctions, it most certainly would be matched up against Notre Dame, and the winner would be crowned the National Champion. Instead, the one-loss Crimson Tide will be heading down to Miami, while the Buckeyes will stay in Columbus to prepare for next season.

Although the BCS had no choice but to leave Ohio State out of the BCS Championship, fans are still left wondering what if. Who would prevail in a showdown between the two remaining unbeaten teams? Would Brian Kelly return the Irish to glory, or would Urban Meyer resurrect the Buckeyes in only his first year?

IRISH OFFENSE vs. BUCKEYE DEFENSE:

While Ohio State has recorded 30 sacks in 2012, Notre Dame’s O-line has only given up 16 sacks all year. Part of this can be attributed to the ability for Irish QB Everett Golson to move around in the pocket and avoid pressure. However, sophomore LB Ryan Shazier (17 TFL) and senior DL John Simon (14 TFL) solidify Ohio State’s containment up front and should prevent Golson from making plays with his feet.  In addition, the Buckeyes have only allowed opponents to gain 116.08 rush yards per game, meaning that Notre Dame would likely be forced to throw the football.

If the Irish must rely on their aerial attack, they will have a tough time against the Buckeyes’ pass defense, which ranks 28th nationally in pass defense efficiency. As a sophomore, CB Bradley Roby has emerged as a shutdown corner (17 passes broken up, 2 interceptions, 1 TD) and would limit Notre Dame’s options along the sidelines. The key matchup is in the middle of the field; can the Buckeyes find someone to shutdown TE Tyler Eiffert? The Buckeyes could line up one of their undersized safeties (Christian Bryant or C.J. Barnett) against Eiffert, or they could drop back one of their linebackers to put a bigger body on the TE. However, if Ohio State chooses the latter option, it could take away from their ability to contain Golson and the Irish trio of running backs (Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, and George Atkinson III). It seems that Notre Dame’s lethal weapon in the passing game gives them the advantage.

BUCKEYE OFFENSE vs. IRISH DEFENSE:

If these two squads were to square off on the field, the matchup may be defined by the two Heisman candidates that would be staring each other down: Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller and Irish LB Manti Te’o. One could argue that Miller is an even better version of Golson, both having very similar styles of play. Meanwhile, Te’o has shown the ability to make plays all over the field; the instinctive LB, along with Notre Dame’s stout D-line led by Louis Nix III, should significantly limit Miller’s options on the ground. Ohio State’s running backs, who also play a big role in the Buckeyes’ 10th ranked rushing offense, would struggle to find daylight on the ground as well.

If Notre Dame forces Ohio State into too many passing situations, the Buckeyes could be in trouble. They only gain 181.5 yards per game through the air and Miller has struggled to spread the ball efficiently in close games (such as against Purdue and Penn State). Despite their troubles in the passing game, the Buckeyes do have weapons in their receiving corps (including Devin Smith and Jake Stoneburner) that could challenge the relatively inexperienced Irish pass defense. Still, Bob Diaco’s defense should manage to hold its own against an offense that is not meant to throw the ball more than 20-25 times a game.

NOTRE DAME SPECIAL TEAMS vs. OHIO STATE SPECIAL TEAMS:

Although he has missed some pretty routine kicks over the course of the year, K Kyle Brindza has made a number of clutch kicks to keep Notre Dame’s perfect season alive. On the other side, K Drew Basil has only attempted 11 field goals all year, converting eight, including a 52-yarder. If the game came down to a kicking contest, Brindza’s leg is probably the safest bet.

The big difference is in the punt return game, where Ohio State (10.37 yards per return, 3 TD’s) dominates Notre Dame (only 2.44 yards per return, 0 TD’s). Both Roby and WR Corey Brown have taken punts to the house, giving the Buckeyes big threats on special teams. In terms of field position, Ohio State might have an advantage that could affect other aspects of the game.

PREDICTION:

The Buckeyes deserve loads of credit for all that they, led by Coach Meyer, have accomplished in such a difficult situation. Additionally, this impressive first season under Meyer will set them up for success in the Big Ten for years to come. That being said, this year’s team would play into Notre Dame’s strengths and would struggle to accomplish much on either side of the ball. Also, Notre Dame’s weapons on offense and playmakers on defense would be too much for Ohio State to handle.

Notre Dame wins, 31-14.

BR

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Senior finance and political science double-major at ND. More importantly, a life-long Irish sports fan with strong opinions about ND football, basketball, and more.