Last night’s Alabama-Notre Dame BCS championship matchup was supposed to be an epic game for the ages – billed as "Dynasty vs. Destiny." Instead, it turned out to be a snoozer for the ages. Since it’s still legal in the United States for Crimson Tide RB Eddie Lacy to run over a grown man, the Dynasty side of the equation won in a blowout, 42-14. From the start, Notre Dame looked outmatched. About the only luck the Fighting Irish had was that a lot of people probably went to bed before witnessing the entirety of the destruction.
Today, one of my friends summed up the game like this: "Well, looks like Notre Dame had no business being ranked first. The end."
Not surprisingly, criticism afterwards revolved around whether Notre Dame even deserved to be in the game at all. Yes, they were undefeated, but maybe in reality that record was a fraud. Maybe the triple-overtime win against Pitt didn’t signify a team that could come back from anything but rather a team that had to try really, really hard to beat Pitt. Maybe even though the Irish defense was heralded, their tendency to take the wrong angles on tackles would be heavily exposed against an above average team. Maybe a one-loss Oregon should have been in the game. Maybe we should have just had a rematch of the SEC Championship.
The soon-to-be playoff system should eliminate some of these maybes, but it still may not stop a dynasty. Watching the Crimson Tide hit on all cylinders last night, it’s easy to imagine that the same fate that Notre Dame suffered could very well have happened to Oregon or any other team, for that matter. The Tide did what great teams do: they brought their A-game to the big game – and someone was going to pay.
But it is interesting to look at to what extent both Alabama and Notre Dame’s schedules prepared them for last night’s moment. The Crimson Tide went through what seemed like a moderate SEC schedule that turned out to be difficult in different ways. LSU, Texas A&M, and Georgia all brought their best games when they played Alabama. To get through it all, the Tide needed depth; the roles of talented freshmen like T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper expanded even more when others went down with long-term injuries. They needed poise to pull out a last-minute win against LSU in Baton Rouge at night. They needed focus after the loss to Texas A&M. And they needed perseverance in the SEC Championship game against Georgia. Through it all, this team learned how to put itself in the best position to win in each game, whether it was a regular season game, a conference championship, or the national championship.
Meanwhile, for all of Notre Dame’s achievements this season, their schedule didn’t turn out to be as difficult as it first looked. Michigan and Michigan State underperformed while USC underachieved. Oklahoma was good, but was exposed against teams like K-State and in the Cotton Bowl against the Aggies. The Fighting Irish played Stanford before the Cardinal got really good, beat Oregon, and won the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl. It was difficult to judge the Irish because, while they were finding different ways to win – a goal-line stand here, improved quarterback play there – they weren’t necessarily putting all the parts together for the grand stage in Miami. Last night, it showed.
After the game, SEC fans exhalted the triumph of "grown man football", but those men also grow over the course of a season. A playoff system may do a better job of separating the men from the boys before the big game, but team schedules – and how teams use those games to build a playoff-ready team – will still matter a lot. Just because the system is changing doesn’t mean grown man football is going away anytime soon, no matter who is on the other side of the field. Last night, that was as clear as the crystal football the Crimson Tide hoisted in victory.