Notre Dame lays an egg in blowout loss to Alabama

Stench from this embarrassment will linger a while in South Bend

Chicago Tribune sports columnist Steve Rosenbloom on the Notre Dame loss to Alabama. (Posted: Jan 8, 2013)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — By the time Alabama amassed 529 yards and annihilated Notre Dame 42-14 Monday night to win the Bowl Championship Series title game at Sun Life Stadium, everything had eluded linebacker Manti Te'o's grasp but the truth.

And judging by the agony all over his face, it hurt as badly as any Barrett Jones block.

"It definitely sucks," Te'o said. "We didn't represent our school, families or our team in the way that we could have."

Indeed they didn't. They wore gold helmets, but that wasn't No. 1 Notre Dame. They proudly put their names on the back of their blue jerseys for the occasion, but the impostors barely resembled the players on the roster who had won 12 straight. They took orders from a red-headed Irishman, but this looked like anything but a Brian Kelly team.

There was little fight in these Irish, no truth in the advertising that billed Notre Dame's defense as SEC-styled. This was Alabama separating itself from every college football program and Nick Saban from every coach, making Notre Dame think waiting 24 years to play in another national championship game wasn't long enough. This was downright Faustian.

This wasn't Catholics vs. Cousins as the souvenir T-shirts mocked. This was Men vs. Boys. Only the BCS computers looked worse than Notre Dame did. Has a 12-1 team ever been more exposed in a big game?

"We were a pretty darn good football team," Kelly said. "Just not good enough."

Yes, Notre Dame can take solace in knowing this team was considered a year ahead of schedule. But Notre Dame coaches can take no days off until the 2013 season begins after seeing firsthand how dramatic the talent disparity remains between the Irish and the best team in America.

It was a special Notre Dame season with a specious ending. Losing the BCS championship game still beat winning a non-BCS bowl. But the stench from this embarrassment will linger a while in South Bend.

"We've got to get physically stronger and continue to close the gap," Kelly said.

In a game full of mismatches, Kelly noted the first one walking onto the field before the game. Four security guards surrounded Saban. Kelly had no such crowd.

"Why does he have four and I only have one?" Kelly kidded within earshot.

You might say one coach came to South Florida for the season's biggest game highly guarded and one didn't. Whereas Kelly savored the hubbub preceding college football's Super Bowl, Saban merely tolerated every tedious detail. To access Saban's personality, it was as if you needed a username and password. In contrast, Kelly was a walking, talking personal Google.

By kickoff, Kelly had reminded us of his salad days coaching at Assumption College when he had to paint the field on Friday nights before Saturday games. He reminisced about staying at the Best Western before Grand Valley State championship games. He politely suffered fools like the guy who asked Kelly to recite a slogan on camera. Kelly even poked fun at Saban when asked if the two ever ran into each other when both coached in Michigan.

"Public appearances for Nick?" Kelly said as everybody laughed.

The joke was on Kelly one day later after Saban made strong-and-silent types everywhere proud by making history. Whatever approach Saban took to get Alabama players in the proper frame of mind worked. The man who joined Bear Bryant, Frank Leahy and John McKay as the only major-college football coaches with four national titles prepared Alabama as well as any team could be.

"Whether I look it or not, I'm happy as hell," Saban said.

Alabama put Saban in a good mood on an opening drive that resembled an April scrimmage. Needing only five plays to score, Alabama's dominance spawned Notre Dame's doubt. This was an Irish team that for six weeks had heard how it didn't belong on the same field with the class of the SEC. Now they were seeing why.

The Alabama offensive line manhandled the Notre Dame front seven like no team had. Te'o guessed wrong too often and Eddie Lacy ran through lanes too wide. Saban's biggest decision was whether to treat the second half as the last two quarters of 2012 or the first two spring practices of 2013.

The only suspense for the national TV audience was how many times Brent Musburger would reference Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's girlfriend.

As Crimson Tide players and coaches celebrated the rout Notre Dame skeptics predicted, the elephant in the room wasn't that goofy Alabama mascot. The elephant in the room was the idea that perhaps Notre Dame's unbeaten season indeed was the product of fluky plays, that the outcome confirmed Notre Dame was lucky and Alabama simply too good.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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