Alabama dismantled Notre Dame on Monday night and captured its third BCS Championship in four years. Head coach Nick Saban has officially built a college football dynasty, and not a single other team could have prevented it on the game's greatest stage.
As Alabama jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead, social media users erupted questioning why Notre Dame had the nation's No. 1 ranking entering the game. Arguments were made that other teams with a top-five ranking would have put up a better fight, and sighs of relief that a BCS playoff is coming were expressed. What these skeptics failed to realize, however, is that it didn't matter who Alabama played last night.
The only way to really beat an SEC team is to be an SEC team, and that starts with having a top defense. Notre Dame had the nation's No. 2 defense this year (Alabama was No.1), and had a Heisman candidate at linebacker in Manti T'eo. Seems legit.
The second half of being a prototypical SEC Champion is having an offense that can move the chains on the ground, is turnover free, protects the quarterback, and has at least one explosive receiver with a ton of size. Notre Dame is only average in this category. While they had a pair of solid runners in Theo Riddick (917 yds) and Cierre Wood (742 yds, 6.5 avg), a receiver with size in 6-6 TE Tyler Eifert (50 rec), another receiver with equal production in 5-11 WR T.J. Jones, and a running quarterback in Everett Golson (58.8 completion percentage, 6 rush TDs), they only scored about 26 points a game - good for 80th in the FBS overall rankings.
By comparison, the Crimson Tide scored nearly two touchdowns more per game than the Fighting Irish this season. That's right, Alabama was 12th in the nation in offense this year, and they did it against the likes of LSU, Georgia, and Texas A&M.
So, Notre Dame went into Monday night's game against a team that had a month to prepare exactly how they were going to score on their opening drive. For Saban, that's almost a gimmie. When Alabama did indeed score and Notre Dame's offense wasn't able to respond on their opening drive, the game was as good as done. When an offense isn't capable of matching an opponent's production and loses the turnover battle, the team is susceptible to being embarrassed on the scoreboard. That's what we saw last night in a 42-14 drubbing.
I'm one of the people who fooled themselves into thinking Notre Dame's excellent defense could stunt Alabama's attack. I should have known better. I also thought that Notre Dame's offensive playmakers could move the ball just enough to stay competitive, score some timely points, and give their defense a shot by forcing long Alabama drives. Once again, I should have known better.
Notre Dame's offense had no business being on the same field as Alabama's defense. Notre Dame faced one SEC-style team this year: Stanford. In that game, the Irish escaped with an overtime victory on a goal-line stand. Alabama, meanwhile, plays in the SEC. They're used to playing championship-level ball games every week. They're used to playing the man-up style of football required to be a champion, and they execute that style better than anyone else because their athletes are well coached and physically are among the country's best.
T.J. Jones wasn't going to do anything meaningful against a Alabama secondary that has CB Dee Milliner, a guy who will be a first-round pick this April, just like Notre Dame's running back committee wasn't going to anything meaningful against a front seven led by linebacker C.J. Mosley, a guy who is going to be a top-10 pick in 2014. Meanwhile, Crimson Tide RB's Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon were each going to get 20+ carries for 100+ yards, QB A.J. McCarron's receivers were going to get free, and that was that.
Notre Dame is good, Alabama is just that much better.
Irish fans shouldn't feel poorly about their performance, just like they shouldn't listen to Oregon fans who say the Ducks should have been there instead. Let's be clear: Oregon would have lost to Alabama by double digits, too.
The Ducks had a lot of height and speed on their roster. They scored a ton of points against PAC-12 teams this season and had a fine year. They also lost to Stanford at home in overtime, 17-14. Again, Stanford is the closest thing to an championship-caliber SEC team outside of the SEC. The Cardinal ran the ball incredibly well behind an outstanding offensive line, and they had a front seven on defense full of powerful All-Americans that can give any offense a rough day. They won this year with toughness.
Stanford is not Alabama, but they model them well, just like LSU. Stanford wins games in the trenches (Notre Dame controversy aside). If Oregon couldn't win a home game against Stanford, there is no way they could beat the paramount version of Stanford that is the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Ducks would have been dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage due to Alabama's advantage in strength, and the Tide would have rolled. Despite Oregon's success and top-notch roster, they will always lose to a team like Alabama until they themselves become Alabama.
Oregon is good, Alabama is just that much better.
In fact, out of all the BCS bowl game champions, the Cardinal would have been the best match for Alabama. Stanford has all of the previously-stated ingredients that go into making an SEC champion. Defensively, they're 11th in points against and can own the trenches. I can't say enough about their front seven, they're really that good. Offensively, they have a Heisman-worthy stud at running back in Stepfan Taylor, a big line led by Rimington Trophy candidate Sam Schwartzstein, a great receiving TE tandem in Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo (6-6 and 6-8, respectively), and some big, fast receivers.
The Cardinal play the toughest style of football, one that will defeat any other style in a championship game if the players are of equivalent skill. The thing about the Cardinal, though, is that their players aren't as skilled as Alabama's. And when a team has the best players playing in the best system under one of the best coaches, they're hard to beat.
Like the others, Stanford is good, Alabama is just that much better.