By MICHAEL WANBAUGH
THE GOSHEN NEWS
A season of destiny, as it had been billed in South Bend after a 12-0 regular season, was no match for a newly-minted dynasty from Tuscaloosa.
The return to glory for Notre Dame, which hasn’t won a national championship since 1988, will have to wait after Alabama dominated the Fighting Irish, 42-14, to claim an historic third title in four years Monday night in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game here at a rocking Sun Life Stadium.
With music blaring and celebrities such as rocker Jon Bon Jovi and actor Vince Vaughn roaming a star-packed sideline, the pre-game atmosphere was as electric as anything sport has to offer in what many considered to be the most anticipated match-up in college football history.
But then the Crimson Tide pulled the plug on any real drama right after the opening kickoff.
“We were surprised with how the score ended up, but we knew we would come out and dominate,” said Alabama All-American center Barrett Jones who imposed his will on a Notre Dame defensive front that made a living this season pressuring quarterbacks and stopping the run. “Not to take anything away from Notre Dame, but we really came out and played hard and were successful.”
The Fighting Irish, boasting the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, allowing just 10.3 points a game, won the ceremonial coin flip and elected to kickoff. That was a mistake.
It took veteran Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and the Alabama offense all of five offensive plays to march 82 yards for the game’s first touchdown, a powerful 20-yard burst by game MVP Eddie Lacy who rushed 20 times for 145 yards.
Six minutes later McCarron hit tight end Michael Williams for a 14-0 lead. Six minutes after that, it was 21-0 when TJ Yeldon plunged in from 1 yard line.
Barely 15 minutes into the game, the optimistic hope of the Irish gave way to a painful reality. Alabama was as good as advertised. Notre Dame was not.
For Alabama, Monday night’s game was a coronation as the Crimson Tide claimed the storied program’s 15th national championship. The only other team in the modern era to win three national championships in four seasons was Nebraska, which won consensus titles in 1994 and 1995 and split a title with Michigan in 1997.
For Notre Dame it was another BCS bowl game collapse. Including appearances in the 2000 and 2006 Fiesta Bowls and the 2007 Sugar Bowl, the Irish are 0-4 in BCS bowl games and have been outscored, 158-57.
Alabama was just clearly better than Notre Dame, adding another national title notch for the SEC conference that now boasts the past seven national champions. Chants of “SEC, SEC,” rose from the ‘Bama fans with two minutes remaining in the game. Many of the Irish fans, however weren’t around to hear it, having already seeing enough.
But for those Notre Dame loyalists who dared peek through their fingers as they were covering the eyes, there was a certain peace in the dismantling. There was nothing to be ashamed of given how far this program progressed this year under head coach Brian Kelly. Sure the Irish were no match for the Tide Monday night. There’s not a team in college football that would have been.
“They were just the better football team today,” Kelly said, “but I loved the way our guys just kept playing.”
The Tide just had too much speed, too much size and too much experience for the Irish to overcome.
As a result of those three things, Notre Dame lost because its defense that at one point in the season went 17 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown, gave up three in the first 15:04 Monday night.
They lost because a defense that gave up just two rushing touchdowns in its previous 12 games, yielded three in the first half alone.
They lost because a defense that held nine teams to fewer than 300 total yards this year was gashed for 309 in just two quarters.
They lost because they were overmatched at every position on the field, yes, even middle linebacker where Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o was virtually a non-factor most of the game.
“It was pretty clear,” Kelly said afterward. “(Our defense) had a hard time getting off the field. A lot of that had to do with Alabama.”
Alabama is the blue print for college football greatness under head coach Nick Saban, who became just the fourth coach in college football history to win four national titles. He also coached LSU to a championship in 2003.
“I think it’s really special,” Saban said of the accomplishment. “One of these days when I’m sitting on the side of a hill watching the stream go by, I’ll probably figure it out even more.”
In the meantime, the Irish program learned that while they’re a great team, they have much work to do before they’re the greatest team.
Notre Dame’s next glory day may be on the horizon, but this night, this season and this dynasty has a sweet home in Alabama.