Saban, Alabama poised to continue their BCS reign
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- College football's overlords need to hold an intervention, pronto, because this is becoming a serious problem. It's clear now that no one can possibly hang with Alabama in a BCS championship game. And that's an issue for everybody else, seeing as neither Nick Saban nor most of his marquee players seem interested in leaving Tuscaloosa anytime soon.
As the confetti poured down behind them at Sun Life Stadium, and as they tried to get changed in the locker room, Alabama's players found themselves answering the same question over and over from reporters following their 42-14 demolition of Notre Dame on Monday: Having won three of the past four BCS championships, are the Crimson Tide a dynasty?
"Man, everyone keeps asking that," said departing offensive lineman Chance Warmack. "We're just a team hungry for dominance. You can put that in the paper."
The BCS might want to put an end to these futile championship charades. How many more teams' fans will fork over thousands of dollars for tickets and flights only to subject themselves to three-hour horror shows? How many more hours of programming must ESPN devote to building up an Alabama game that's less competitive than A-Day? How many more idiots like this one will delude themselves into thinking one of Saban's teams can be rendered mortal in a championship setting?
Maybe the real reason Chip Kelly turned down the NFL overtures last weekend was because he received a bat signal from the rest of college football: You're our only hope.
It doesn't seem to matter which team is challenging Alabama. Texas was an undefeated Big 12 champion when it faced the Tide in Pasadena in 2009; that game, like this one, was wrapped up early in the second quarter. Last year against LSU, the Tide played a squad we knew from a previous matchup was capable of beating them. Alabama shut out the Tigers, 21-0.
This year brought Notre Dame, the storied independent, fielding an undefeated record and an SEC-caliber defensive front. That narrative will now be rewritten, of course, following a night in which Alabama's blockers tossed aside stars Stephon Tuitt and Manti Te'o like minor annoyances en route to another long Eddie Lacy run. The same Irish secondary that performed so admirably during the regular season was utterly overmatched. Savvy quarterback AJ McCarron, a star-studded offensive line ('Bama boasts three All-America offensive linemen) and alarmingly wide-open receivers exploited Notre Dame time and time again. As with any team that's ever lost a college football game, the Irish will be retroactively ridiculed as overrated and undeserving.
But if that's the case, America, who should have taken their place? As you may recall, Florida finished the regular season third in the BCS standings. The Gators were last seen haplessly struggling to complete a pass against Louisville. No. 4 Oregon and its electrifying offense is an obvious candidate, but many of you made it abundantly clear last year how you feel about teams that didn't win their own division playing for the national championship. Kansas State would have been next in line -- it even couldn't handle the Ducks.
Perhaps in hindsight we should have staged an Alabama-Texas A&M rematch. At least that one might have gone over better than Alabama's repeat clash with LSU, given the presence of Johnny Football and the prospect of multiple touchdowns.
Still, Monday's BCS title performance drove the point home: There's Alabama, and then there's the rest of the FBS.
"They're not just better than us," Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said of the Tide. "They're better than everyone."
From the moment Lacy broke off a 20-yard touchdown run less than three minutes into the game, it was clear Te'o and the vaunted Irish defense had finally run into a foe it couldn't stifle. Notre Dame had outscored its opponents 85-9 in the first quarter this season. Alabama scored 21 points just one play into the second quarter. Notre Dame had allowed just two touchdown drives of 60-plus yards all season. Alabama doubled that total before halftime. Irish opponents had averaged 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. Lacy (20 carries, 140 yards) more than doubled that mark by himself (7.0).
"We think we can dominate anyone we play," said McCarron, who shredded the Irish to the tune of 20-of-28 passing for 264 yards and four touchdowns. "We never let a game get bigger than it is, but we never allow a defense to affect us as a whole."
The scariest part of this latest championship, of course, is that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Crimson Tide. Instead, an inexperienced Alabama team opened its season by destroying a top-10 Michigan team in Dallas, and ended it by humiliating a 12-0, top-ranked Irish squad and its previously proud defense.
As much as the nation wants to believe the SEC's perceived superiority is a media creation, it's no coincidence that the conference's championship game has been infinitely more competitive in the past seven years than the game that's played five weeks later.
Looking ahead to 2013, it begs the question: What hope do others have for ending the Tide's recent reign?
Saban has been steadfast in saying that he won't entertain NFL overtures. Some say the sour taste from his Miami Dolphins stint might drive him to return. Here's guessing the allure of becoming the best college football coach of all-time is far more powerful -- and a possible fifth national championship in his ninth season as a college head coach would put him on a very short list of candidates.
And guess who else is coming back to Tuscaloosa next season? McCarron, tailback T.J. Yeldon (21 carries, 108 yards), linebacker C.J. Mosley (a team-high eight tackles, one for loss), safety HaHa Clinton-Dix (seven tackles and an acrobatic interception) and many others. There's no guarantee the Tide will make it through their SEC schedule, but if they do, which poor victim that just completed a dream season will spend five weeks filling itself with false hope?
In theory, the national championship game should not be so lopsided. It's not like this was one of Alabama's early-season warmups or homecoming games against a directional FCS school. But that's precisely how the Tide have treated their past three title-game opponents. When quarterback Everett Golson crossed the goal line from two yards out late in the third quarter to make the margin 35-7, it ended a staggering stretch of more than 108 scoreless championship game minutes against Texas, LSU and Notre Dame.
So who's got next?
Will it be you, Oregon, with your savior coach back in the fold? It's not your fault that the one season you reached the BCS championship game was the only one of the past four that Alabama didn't make it. Or can we safely assume that, given five weeks, Saban would figure out how to slow down the Ducks' high-flying offense?
What about you, Stanford? You play much the same physical brand of football as Alabama. Of course, you're also much the same type of pesky overachievers as the defeated Irish.
Will Urban Meyer have Ohio State ready in Year 2? The Buckeyes can probably make it through the Big Ten with little resistance. But that's an issue unto itself. There's no adversary capable of testing them in the Big Ten the way LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia challenge Alabama in the SEC. By the time 'Bama gets to January, it's as if it already finished the hardest part of its quest.
The Tide will lose at least two, and probably three, standouts -- Warmack, Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker -- from the offensive line that so thoroughly dominated the Irish. That will give optimists something to cling to this offseason. But it's not like those guys are leaving a bunch of scrubs behind.
"I'm already thinking about two weeks from now when I have to get back and get ready for next season," said sophomore tackle Cyrus Kouandijo. "We're going for it again next year. And again. And again."
Indeed, shortly after Alabama returns to campus, Saban will hold his customary team meeting when "it will be time to start building toward a next season," he said.
"... My job is to put the players in position to win," Saban said. "I want them to be able to look back 25 years from now and say they won the national championship."
At this rate, they're going to be able to look back and say they won all of them.