UPDATED WITH NICK SABAN QUOTES
Miami Gardens, Fla. – For a minute, this felt like a real event. That was the minute before kickoff, when the stadium was alive and both sides lived in hope. Then the game began, and it got …
Ugly? If you’d hoped for a competitive BCS championship game, yes. But in another way, what came after was a kind of brutal beauty. A great football team played at the peak of its power, and how often are we privileged to witness such brilliance? If this wasn’t quite UCLA beating No. 1 Houston 101-69 in the 1968 Final Four, it was pretty darn close.
Alabama led by seven points after three minutes, by 21 four seconds into the second quarter. At that moment, the Crimson Tide had outgained No. 1 Notre Dame 203 yards to 23 and had scored more points than the vaunted Irish defense had allowed in four quarters this season. It’s easy to say now that Notre Dame stands revealed as a fraud, but this is what Alabama does. It takes big-shouldered No. 1 teams — LSU last January, Notre Dame this time — and renders them puny by comparison.
Again we were reminded that there is no other league like the SEC, which has won seven BCS titles in succession and might win the next 77, but now we know that, even among the SEC’s array of heavyweights, there’s no program like Alabama and no coach like Nick Saban. This was once seen as the least of the past five Tide teams – afterward, Saban said his men “certainly exceeded every expectation we had for them” — but it was again the best in the land.
Three of the past four BCS title games have been won by Alabama, and four of the past 10 championships have been taken by Saban. What began as domination by a conference has yielded to the singular excellence of one driven man. College football has its Krzyzewski, meaning a coach who isn’t just the best but the best by such a distance as to make it seem unfair.
Said Saban: “A world like ‘dynasty’ is not one I’m much interested in. I’m more interested in ‘accomplishment’ and ‘consistency’ and ‘performance.’ ”
SEC zealots will insists Notre Dame wouldn’t have gone unbeaten against an SEC-caliber schedule, and it probably wouldn’t. (Even Alabama didn’t.) But the Irish arrived as a proud and strong team that had beaten Stanford, which won the Pac-12, and Oklahoma, which finished tied atop the Big 12, and other Brand Names. But it was clear after one drive that Notre Dame at its best couldn’t touch Alabama, and rarely does Bama allow any opponent to look its best.
Eddie Lacy burst through holes as as broad as an airport runway, and those few times he encountered Irish resistance he shrugged it aside. The decorated Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was made to look ordinary, and the Irish lineman couldn’t lay a pinkie on AJ McCarron, who found receivers running free and easy. And when Alabama dazzles you with offensive footwork, you’re in for a long night.
Early in the second quarter, there came a moment when the difference in class was made manifest. The fleet Irish quarterback Everett Golson shook free on a third-down scramble and had a clear path to the first down. C.J. Mosley, whose tip of Aaron Murray’s final pass decided the hairbreadth SEC championship game, ran down Golson and stopped him short.
Only moments earlier, Irish coach Brian Kelly chose to try for a first down on fourth-and-five at the Alabama 39. The play failed, and it underscored how quickly Alabama can drive a sound coach to desperation. (Fun fact: When Notre Dame scored late in the third quarter, it marked the first points Bama had yielded in the 108 minutes and seven seconds in the BCS title game, a span over which it had outscored three opponents — Texas, LSU and now Notre Dame — 69-0.)
This game was 28-0 at the half — it would end 42-14 — and 28-nil wasn’t from the famous 31-0 halftime spread Alabama had amassed against No. 3 Georgia in Athens on Sept. 28, 2008. That game stands as the first watershed victory of Saban’s Bama, and almost everything since has been a consolidation of gains, and who out there seems apt to stem the raging Tide?
Said Saban, quibbling: “We got here by five yards. Georgia was five yards from scoring (to win the SEC title).”
Before Monday night, no school had repeated as BCS champion. Alabama now has two in a row, and three of four, and the belief in Tide circles is that next year’s team will be even better. Just as the SEC has lapped the rest of the collegiate field, Alabama has lapped the mighty SEC. Even within the only conference that matters, there’s only one team that matters. Nick Saban’s team.
“This was really special,” he said, “and someday when I’m sitting on the hill watching the stream go by, I might think even deeper thoughts. But what about next year’s team? Somebody’s got to think about that.”
By Mark Bradley