Looking back, there was little doubt throughout most of the 2012 season that the Alabama Crimson Tide was the best team in the nation, at least among sane circles of those who follow college football avidly.
Sure, Alabama had dropped a stunner to Texas A&M and eventual Heisman quarterback Johnny Manziel at Bryant-Denny, but that loss was viewed by many (even some outside of the Gumpcentric world view) as a snake-bit, spring-trap loss. After all, even with the once-in-a-lifetime performance from Manziel and his receiving corps, the Aggies only won by the slimmest of margins in the final seconds of the game. Alabama was caught offguard, and really only played a little more than a quarter of questionable football before righting the ship.
The Tide had put together an exemplary body of football dominance through 2011 and 2012, with only two losses in those two seasons (the aforementioned loss to Texas A&M, and the "Game of the Century" regular season loss to LSU in 2011, a game which was later avenged in the all-SEC national championship game.)
With Alabama's dynasty under Saban coming to a head, and the traditional powerhouse nature of the Tide program, there's no surprise that the 2013 BCS National Championship Game match-up with Notre Dame turned into Hype-apalooza. After all, there are only a handful of teams that can match the football cache of Alabama, and Notre Dame is definitely well ensconced in that rare number. With an upswell of Alabama hatred rising alongside the Tide dynastic climb, the scene was set for a narrative that celebrated a Fighting Irish team on a resurgence of its own, restoring balance to the football world by slaying the Goliath Alabama with its greatest contest to date.
That high drama, however, didn't materialize. As we know, Notre Dame, despite its legendary grandeur, despite its Heisman-contending linebacker Manti Te'o, despite its "strong" defense loaded with NFL Draft pics, proved little more than a speed bump for the buzzsaw of the Alabama running attack and the wrecking ball of Tide defense.
In recognition of the 15 remaining days until the kickoff of the 2016 college football season, we take a look back at sweet revenge for long-committed wrongs and the restoration of right in the world, at least from the Tide's perspective...we celebrate Alabama's 15th National Championship over the hapless Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 2013 BCS Championship Game.
The 2012 Season
Coming off of a BCS National Championship over SEC West foe LSU in the previous season, Alabama entered the 2012 campaign as the odds-on favorite to repeat as the last man standing. With a bevy of returning starters on an already stellar defense, the return of veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron, a stable of backs including current NFL starters Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon and an offensive line that would go down as one of the greatest units to man the trenches in Tuscaloosa, it was hard for anyone (outside of Lee County) to pick against the Tide to repeat.
Things went according to plan until a shocking development in November. While many fans of the Tide program later blamed fatigue from the previous week's perennial cage match with LSU, Texas A&M waltzed into T-Town and took the world by storm. Alabama started off kilter, knocked off their center by Kevin Sumlin's brand of hurry-up Air Raid offense, and with a little luck and the pluck of the freshman QB Manziel, the Aggies leapt out to a lead they wouldn't surrender. Alabama rallied late, but the game winning drive was doomed with seconds left in the game when McCarron threw a rare interception in the end zone, ending the Tide's hopes of remaining undefeated.
After suffering the loss, the Tide refocused, beating lowly Western Carolina and thumping Auburn 49-0 en route to the SEC Championship Game. There, they encountered a game Georgia Bulldog squad that matched Alabama's talent level, and after a gritty four quarters of man-ball, the only thing that separated the two teams was a heroic, last-minute effort by C.J. Mosley to tip a fourth-down pass inside the 20 and end the Bulldog threat late.
Notre Dame, unlike Alabama, had not come into the 2012 season forecast to find itself with a BCS National Championship berth. With head coach Brian Kelly rebuilding the Fighting Irish after years of neglect, few expected Notre Dame to rise to an undefeated record. If that wasn't enough, the Irish didn't rise on the arm of a golden armed quarterback as in past epochs, but rather on the strength of their defense, which had as its center linebacker Manti Te'o. Te'o (and his "girlfriend" Lennay Kekua) became a sensation among media fanboys, as the world couldn't get enough of Te'o and the rebuilt Irish program.
The hype surrounding the Notre Dame program and Te'o lent itself to the national championship game match-up with Alabama. The Irish were the anti-Bama, and the nation had a thirst for something other than the Crimson Tide and their machinistic domination of opponents. After all, Alabama would be playing for its third natty since 2009, and that was something many college football fans found hard to stomach. Enter the Golden Domers and their Golden Knight Te'o, and the stage was set for yet another "Game of the Century."
While many did their best to convince themselves that Notre Dame could do what few other teams were able to do against Alabama, on paper the numbers didn't favor the Irish. Alabama's defense led the nation in many categories (including total defense, as the Tide gave up only 246 yards per game), and had only had an exposed weakness to the hurry-up fast-paced mobile-quarterback-led offense of the Aggies. Notre Dame didn't have such an offense, with workmanlike QB Everett Golson lacking the explosiveness (and running ability...and passing ability) of Manziel. The Notre Dame running game was nothing special, and even still, Alabama run's defense led the nation, giving up a mere 79.77 yards per game on the ground.
Alabama's offense wasn't flashy, but it was effective, just as a sledgehammer to the head may lack the flash of a muy thai high-kick but is nonetheless brutally effective. With Cyrus Kouandjio, Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Anthony Steen and D.J. Fluker, the Tide had possibly the best offensive line in modern college football history (all five linemen, and the tight end for that matter, were signed to NFL contracts upon leaving Alabama...no fewer than three are expected to start in the NFL this season). With such resources at hand, Alabama did what it did best: it ran its stable of backs behind a dominant, physical offensive line while taking shots to super freshman Amari Cooper and steady Kevin Norwood in the play-action game when opportunities presented themselves.
Against that type of offense, many expected Notre Dame's defense to hold serve. After all, Notre Dame had the nation's sixth best total defense (giving up 286.83 yards per game) and the number one scoring defense (10.3 points per game). With Te'o backing a NFL-caliber defensive line that included Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuit, many expected the Irish defense to frustrate Alabama's running attack and force McCarron to the air and away from the Tide's strength offensively.
While many in the media did their best to lend credibility to the narrative that Notre Dame could (and would) win the game, the money men in Vegas said otherwise. As the game drew near, smart money flowed away from the Irish, and the spread grew near 10 points in many books. Vegas knew what followers of the Tide knew, despite contrast presented in the the slavish pandering of the national media to the Notre Dame narrative.
January 7 arrived as any other day: the sun rose in the east, traversed the sky and settled into the west. But what differentiated this day from the litany of its predecessors was the unholy ass-kicking that awaited the Fighting Irish at SunLife Stadium.
The Tide took the opening kickoff, and proved they had come to dominate. With a balanced attack from the arm of AJ McCarron and the brutalizing running attack of Lacy and Yeldon, Alabama's offense slid through the porous Notre Dame defense like a knife through warm butter. While many wrote it off to shell-shock, or "early nerves" on the part of Notre Dame on the game's biggest stage, the first drive set the tone for what would be a four-quarter assault by Alabama's underrated offense. Lacy capped the initial drive with a 20-yard touchdown run to give the Tide an early lead.
Alabama's defense also demonstrated their willingness to crush the Irish, squelching the initial Notre Dame drive in machine-like fashion. Alabama fielded a punt at their own 39, and once again hauled out the battering rams behind the juggernaut offensive line. After a methodical, man-ball drive down the gullet of the Irish defense, McCarron capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Williams to run the score to 14-0.
Reeling from the Tide's domination of the first quarter, Notre Dame was more than just shell-shocked or nervous: they were outclassed by the vastly superior Crimson Tide football team. All-World linebacker Manti Te'o looked like a Pop Warner wash-out, as he (and his teammates, to be fair) failed to make routine tackles, took bad angles and were consistently out of position more often than not. Te'o and company had a difficult time with Lacy in particular, routinely sliding off of him like butter off a hot biscuit. His combination of speed, power and elusiveness was something the Irish had not seen throughout the regular season, and in combination with the dominant blocking of Jones and Company up front, the Tide running attack was unstoppable.
The second quarter was very similar to the first, as the Tide capped an eight play, 80-yard drive only four seconds in. With all day to run through his progressions (thanks to a stellar pass blocking performance), McCarron sliced the Irish defense through the air, including a huge pass to Cooper that set up the eventual score. In a balanced attack, Lacy and Yeldon continued to pound the ball through an already-winded Irish D. Yeldon got in on the scoring action to finish the drive, putting the ball in from a yard out to put the score at 21-0 only seconds removed from the first quarter.
While the Tide defense continued to stymy the Notre Dame offense led by Golson, Notre Dame's defense likewise began to settle in and make stops against the Tide offense. Much of the second quarter saw the teams trade stuttering drives as the defenses took over. However, as the second half drew to a close, Alabama flexed its two-minute game, seeing an opportunity to tack on one more foot-on-the-throat touchdown before the halftime break.
The Tide received a punt and started at their own 29. With a mere 3:43 until the half, McCarron field-marshalled the Alabama offense on a 71-yard march to pay dirt, moving the ball with sharp, short passes mixed in with an occasional run to keep the defense honest. As the clock ticked towards the final 30 seconds of the half, Lacy showed his versatility as McCarron hit him on a short dump pass that turned into an 11-yard touchdown run, complete with his trademark circle-button spin. The TD put the score at 28-0 half, and for Notre Dame, it appeared that hopes of capping their comeback season with a national title were all but lost.
After once again snuffing an Irish offensive to start the second half, Alabama's offense picked up where they left off. The Tide began the drive drilled deeply in their own territory at the three-yard-line following a freak-show interception by Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. Alabama once again opened up their offense a little, taking advantage of Notre Dame's defensive depth issues while running 10 plays over five minutes. McCarron was on top of his game, and the Tide finished the 97-yard drive with a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. The McCarron-to-Cooper connection ran the score to 35-0.
The outcome all but decided by the time the third quarter drew to a close, the Irish finally saved some face by getting in the end zone. Notre Dame covered 85 yards in 3:26, arguably their most efficient single drive of the night against the rigid Alabama defense. Golson called his own number from the two yard line, putting the ball over the line to give Notre Dame their first touchdown of the night, cutting the score to 35-7.
Undaunted by the Irish score, Alabama put together a boa constrictor-type drive to strangle the life from the Irish as the clock wore thin. Beginning at their own 14-yard-line, Alabama once again called upon the running game to burn clock and move the ball, as Lacy and Yeldon continued to put in quality work against a highly-rated (but clearly winded) Irish front seven. Alabama put the dagger in the heart of the Notre Dame faithful following a 14-play, nearly eight-minute-long drive that culminated in a 19 yard touchdown pass from McCarron to Cooper, running the score to 42-7 in favor of the Tide.
With the die cast, the Alabama defense finally relaxed its foot on the throttle in the final stanza of the national championship game. With only minutes left, the Irish managed to string together one final gasp on a 10-play, 75 yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Golson to Theo Riddick. The score was far too little, far too late, as the clock expired on the Tide's 42-14 rout.
Alabama dominated the stat line, recording 28 first downs, 529 yards of total offense and nearly perfect offensive balance with 264 yards rushing and 265 yards passing. The Alabama defense, led by defensive MVP C.J. Mosley, held the Irish to a mere 302 yards of total offense and a paltry 32 yards on the ground.
When all was said and done, the Alabama defense did its job against a hapless Irish offense. But the most surprising feature of the Tide's 15th National Championship was the ease with which the Alabama offense coasted through the supposedly-salty, future pro-laden Notre Dame defense. McCarron finished the night with three touchdown passes (two to Lacy, one to Williams), and Cooper reeled in a couple of touchdowns while proving uncoverable by the middling Irish secondary.
But the offensive MVP of the night was Lacy, who finished with 157 all-purpose yards (140 yards rushing, 17 yards receiving), and who scored both on the ground and through the air. Lacy benefitted from the best offensive line of the Saban era to be sure, but he had what was likely the best game of his college career on the game's biggest stage that night. Lacy personally embarrassed the Heisman finalist Te'o on more than one occasion, running through, past and over his tackle attempts on multiple occasions. While Lacy had been a solid performer all year, it could be argued that his performance in the big game sky-rocketed his worth as a future NFL Draft pick and resulted in the rising of his pro stock to second-round status (he was ultimately the 61st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers).
Alabama's 15th National Championship had historic consequences, to be sure, and will be remembered by Tide faithful as one of the most satisfying wins of the Saban tenure in Tuscaloosa. Not only did the Tide win in dominant fashion, but they did so while beating a time-tested foe from yesteryear in the process.
(To watch highlights of the drubbing of Notre Dame, click here. If you have time on your hands and want to watch the WHOLE DAMN GLORIOUS THING, then click here. If you just want to watch Eddie Lacy make that money, here is where you want to click. Enjoy!)