Open thread: The obligatory "Notre Dame vs. Alabama" post

8 p.m. ET on ESPN. When trekking across a news desert, we drink at any oasis we find. Besides, it’s either this or another Hagel thread.

At WaPo, author Michael Leahy wonders: Do Catholics have a duty to root for the Irish?

[T]o this day, Notre Dame remains a political and social battleground for American Catholics. The university’s invitation for President Obama to deliver the 2009 commencement address became a national controversy, with conservative Catholics opposing the president’s positions on abortion rights and stem-cell research. And last year, the university filed suit against the federal government, seeking to overturn a requirement in Obama’s health-care law that employers offer insurance plans including contraception coverage — a move that more politically moderate church members resented, concerned that Notre Dame would seek to deprive women, Catholic or not, of such coverage.

So it was perhaps inevitable that the school and the football team, two of the church’s paramount American symbols, would come to be viewed with a mix of weariness and cynicism by a new generation. To some Catholics, Notre Dame is that righteous relative who arrives at the holiday dinner beating his chest over his fealty and good deeds — the one there to remind others at the table that they have not measured up…

That perception has solidified in the years since, with the realization that some gifted players never will attract Notre Dame’s interest, beginning with academically underachieving high school stars whom other universities are only too happy to grab — the football giants in the Southeastern Conference, including Alabama, among them. In big-game trash-talking before Monday’s championship contest, some Irish fans’ T-shirts mock the perceived socioeconomic station of their Southern, state-school opponent. “Catholics vs. Convicts” has given way to “Golden Domers vs. Mobile Homers” and “Catholics vs. Cousins.”…

In its defense, the university can point to the graduation rate of its football players — it’s the highest among the big teams in the nation, and this is the first time that the leader in graduation is also tops in the polls — as evidence that the school has its priorities in order. This seems to be Notre Dame’s lasting, self-imposed role in sports: the earnest ethicist, the dogged standard-maker, the nag — much like the church felt to me in my youth.

ND looked good against the two top-ten teams they played this year, but if you watched them barely survive against BYU, Purdue, and Pitt, it’s hard to see them beating the lords of the SEC. Leahy’s pick: The Tide by two touchdowns. I agree. But then, an atheist would say that.