Was Notre Dame really that overrated?
Or was Alabama really that good?
Who can end the Southeastern Conference stranglehold?
Is Alabama’s 2010-2013 dynasty more impressive than those of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Miami and the Han, who reigned for 400 years?
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Will Nick Saban, peeved even in triumph, ban his players from any future Gatorade dousings?
These are the questions that emerged from Monday’s epic matchup but opposite-of-epic BCS National Championship Game at Sun Life Stadium.
Alabama dominated every facet of the contest, and only the luck of the Irish prevented the outcome from being 56-0 instead of 42-14.
As is usually the case with excessive buildup, tremendous letdown.
But what a wonderful buildup it was, imbued with the hues of burnished gold, emerald green, blood crimson and tooth-enamel white.
South Florida got to witness the outlandish, infantile and joyous rituals practiced by Notre Dame and Alabama groupies.
South Florida got to soak in the tradition that makes college football more emotionally riveting than pro football. When the Dolphins lose, fans gnash bitterness between teeth and disown the players and coaches. When the Irish lose, fans sing the fight song and hang up their leprechaun costumes until next season.
In the second-to-last title game of the BCS era, South Florida hosted the return to relevance of the sport’s most iconic program and a demonstration of dominance by its best.
Notre Dame was the romantics’ underdog, even undefeated and ranked No. 1. Everyone except the Irish faithful understood that coach Brian Kelly would have to find a four-leaf clover in the Everglades if he hoped to deny Alabama its second consecutive title, and its third in four years.
Saban has constructed a team with the micro precision and macro vision of an architect: No weak links.
Notre Dame’s top-ranked scoring defense looked like a tomato can boxer out there, pummeled to a pulp by Alabama’s elephantine front line. Eddie Lacy, deceptively agile for a bulldozer, gained 140 of Bama’s 265 rushing yards. Quarterback AJ McCarron had time to wave to his girlfriend before snaking two touchdown passes to Amari Cooper.
Afterward, Tide players said they were prepared for Notre Dame’s defense and the Irish threw no surprises at them. Kelly needed to be more creative against pre-programmed Bama, and conceded that his players failed to tackle with their usual ferocity. Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick was in tears at his locker, disappointed by the 37 yards he gained (20 on one play, 17 on nine others) in his team’s nonexistent rushing game.
So, did Notre Dame deserve to be in the title game? Lots of dominoes fell Notre Dame’s way this season, from its narrow victories that could have resulted in three or four losses to the pivotal weekend when other undefeated contenders fell. Yet the Irish finished a clean 12-0 and the number crunching added up to No. 1. Alabama stumbled to Texas A&M and wound up No. 2. Most everyone raved about the 1-vs.-2 brand-name showdown and praised the BCS for working right.
Then lots of folks turned TVs off at halftime. When the score was 28-0, it became a dud game from a stupid system.
What if undefeated Ohio State had been eligible — and bumped Alabama out of the title game? Would the Oregon Ducks have put up a tougher fight? Or Kansas State? Would an Alabama-Georgia rematch have been fairest?
It’s no use reliving the past. Or debating a computer. College football’s ranking/polling system — so carefully calibrated but so often nonsensical — is going the way of pay phones. One more year and it will be extinct. The complaining about who is ranked what before bowl season will be replaced by complaining about who is ranked what before playoff season.
Notre Dame tumbled to No. 4 in the final Associated Press poll Tuesday, but the Irish expect to haul in the No.1 recruiting class.
The SEC controls a dynasty of its own with seven consecutive championships by its members and it became the first conference to place five teams in the final AP top 10, setting up for eight in a row.
Alabama will start next season where it finished this one — No. 1. The Tide loses a few key seniors but that happened last year with a bundle of first-round NFL draft picks, and don’t look now at a roster loaded with juniors and sophomores. Saban, girding for a three-peat, never leaves anything open to debate.