The thought first came to mind a few weeks ago. Notre Dame in 2012 is Ohio State in 2002.
It has kept coming back and it has become more insistent. Notre Dame in 2012 looks a lot like Ohio State in 2002.
Of course, that thought could be wrong. Notre Dame could turn out to be LSU against Alabama last year or Nebraska against Miami in the 2001 national championship match-up.
But maybe the best — or luckiest — prediction of my career was Ohio State 27, Miami 24 in the BCS national championship game in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2002 season.
And I keep thinking, Notre Dame against Alabama this season looks a lot like OSU against Miami did then.
In 2002, Ohio State was looking for its first national championship in 34 years. Notre Dame hasn’t won one in 24 years.
Nationally, a lot of people think Alabama could dominate Notre Dame, just like the consensus was that Miami was going to run Ohio State right out of Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium.
Alabama is the defending national champion, just like Miami was. The Crimson Tide won last year’s title 21-0 over LSU. Miami finished the 2001 season by rolling past Nebraska 37-14 in the title game.
In 2002, Ohio State scored 29.3 points a game and allowed 13.1 points a game. It averaged 364 yards a game on offense and gave up 320 yards a game. Defense was its strength. It gave up only five rushing touchdowns and 14 passing TDs.
Notre Dame this year has scored 26.8 points a game and allowed 10.3. It averages 421 yards a game and gives up 286. Defense is its strength. It has given up only two rushing touchdowns and seven passing scores.
If you’re looking for reasons Notre Dame could win, it starts with the fact Alabama probably isn’t as good as it was a year ago. Just like Miami in 2002.
That year, the Hurricanes had to replace 11 players who were taken in the NFL draft, including five first-rounders. This year, Alabama needed to replace eight draft picks, including four first-rounders and a second-rounder.
Like the 2002 Hurricanes, Alabama has shown signs of vulnerability late in the season.
Miami narrowly escaped with a win over Rutgers and its defense faltered down the stretch, allowing a string of 100-yard rushers in 2002.
This season, Alabama’s defense looked less than invincible in three of its last four games, allowing 394 yards in a 32-28 win over Georgia, 418 yards in a 29-24 loss to Texas A&M and 435 yards in a 21-17 win over LSU.
The Alabama-Miami comparison falls apart in two major areas, though. One of them is bad for Notre Dame but the other is good.
Miami was coached by Larry Coker in the second year of a tenure that went straight downhill when Butch Davis’ recruits were gone. Alabama, on the other hand, has Nick Saban.
Talent-wise, though, Alabama can’t compare with Miami in 2002. The Hurricanes had players like Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee and Kellen Winslow Jr. on offense. Defensively, they had Jonathan Vilma, Sean Taylor and Vince Wilfork.
It’s a different year. It’s different teams. But the thought won’t go away. Notre Dame in 2012 is Ohio State in 2002.