Could Notre Dame compete in the SEC?

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Could Notre Dame compete in the SEC?

BOSTON -- No, this question may not matter. Notre Dame's joining the ACC on a limited basis, not the SEC. At most, they'll face one SEC team every few years, with that game coming during bowl season.

But as Notre Dame is grouped among the best teams in college football, it begs the question: could the Irish compete in the best conference in college football?

One former SEC coach thinks the answer is yes.

"I think they could," Houston Nutt, who coached at Arkansas and Ole Miss, said. "The thing that would be different for them, the thing that you still don't know is when they play Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia back-to-back-to-back, it's that grind.

"And if you just look at their team, I feel like they've got a very good defensive team, a very good offensive team, special teams they don't beat themselves, they're physical -- all those things."

That grind Nutt mentioned separates the top tier of the SEC from the rest of the conference -- just look at South Carolina, a team that crushed Georgia only to lose back-to-back games to LSU and Florida to fall out of the national title discussion. Notre Dame's schedule isn't easy by any means, and players would tell you it's certainly a grind, but no matter how hard Pittsburgh and other opponents play, nothing measures up to back-to-back games in Death Valley and the Swamp.

Notre Dame certainly has the stereotypical profile of an SEC team: Great defense, plenty of size and athleticism on the interior and a stable of athletic running backs who lead a good-not-great offense. It doesn't hurt, either, that some of Notre Dame's stars are from SEC country. T.J. Jones and Stephon Tuitt are from Georgia, while Zeke Motta and Louis Nix hail from Florida (Jamoris Slaughter and Lo Wood are from Georgia and Florida, respectively, but are out for the 2012 season).

It's not just the guys from the South, too -- Notre Dame has plenty of speed on its defense, and it features arguably the best defensive player in the nation in Manti Te'o. On offense, there's plenty of speed, too, namely with the game-breaking abilities of Cierre Wood and George Atkinson.

But even with all that talent, Notre Dame would be a two-touchdown underdog to Alabama if the two teams were to meet this weekend. Most around the SEC would tell you Alabama would roll Notre Dame, and they're well within their rights to say that -- the conference winning six straight national titles certainly breeds that confidence.

"When Notre Dame watches the film and watches Alabama, they're going to see how physical, how fast and how very consistent they are," Nutt, now an analyst for CBS College Sports, said. "They don't beat themselves. They win the turnover margin. They're a well-coached team. Alabama is used to winning, they expect to win. It'd be a heck of a battle."

The talent gulf isn't so wide, though, that Notre Dame couldn't come out and beat Alabama if the two were matched up in the National Championship. With a month to prepare, anything could happen.

"You got 30 days to get ready, I think you don't know. You just don't know," Nutt explained. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. You look at Boise State several years ago, one of the funnest games I've ever seen. Boise State got ready for Oklahoma and they beat them. Absolutely, it could happen."

As for Notre Dame competing in the SEC, it's worth noting that the conference's gauntlet may not be far more difficult than Notre Dame's schedule. Among the Top 25 by Football Outsiders' F rankings are five SEC teams (Alabama, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia) and five of Notre Dame's opponents (Oklahoma, Michigan State, USC, Stanford, BYU), although four of the SEC teams are in the top 10, while four of Notre Dame's opponents are outside the top 10.

Chances are, Notre Dame wouldn't run the table in SEC play -- but if they did, they wouldn't need any sort of attrition to reach the BCS title game. That's just an interesting hypothetical, nothing more.

What does matter, though, is Notre Dame has the ability to compete with Alabama if they reach the National Championship. After all, the Irish resemble an SEC team more than anyone else outside the nation's best conference.

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