The echoes have gone back to sleep.
That’s what happens in college football when the best team in the Southeastern Conference plays just about anybody. During the last seven years, the Big Ten, the Pacific-12 and the Big 12 have sent teams to the BCS title game and come away empty. This time it was Notre Dame, laden with all the tradition in the world, all the luck in the world, all the “wake up the echoes” hype in the world and — seemingly — a defense that could keep the Irish in contention with anyone they happened to play.
The final score of Monday night’s BCS title game was 42-14, but it wasn’t really that close. Alabama, en route to its third national title in four years, scored the first three times it had the ball. By halftime, the Tide had rolled to a 28-0 lead, which, for those on the East Coast, was a good thing because it meant not having to stay up late on a school night.
No one had been able to run the ball on Notre Dame all season. Alabama ran for 265 yards. There were some who thought Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron might throw the ball to the wrong team facing the fierceness of Notre Dame’s front seven; he threw four touchdown passes and can now turn his attention to dating Miss Alabama.
The SEC has now won the last seven BCS championships. Even if you factor in LSU’s fourth-quarter meltdown against Clemson and Florida’s absolute no-show against Louisville in their bowl games, the case can be made that six of the 10 best teams in the country this season came from the SEC: Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU.
There were only five SEC teams — out of 14 — that didn’t play in bowls this season: Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and Missouri. Four of the five coaches in that group are now out of work. Only Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel survived after failing to reach the not-so-magic 6-6 mark. They don’t fool around in the SEC.
The question that will come up now is just how Notre Dame managed to go 12-0 and get into the championship game. The answers aren’t that complicated. The Irish did have a very good defense, but they also benefited from a schedule that turned out to be a lot easier than it appeared before the start of the season.
Notre Dame beat two truly good teams: Oklahoma and Stanford. The Stanford win — at home — came with the aid of the officials, who blew their whistles early on an apparent Cardinal touchdown that would have sent the game into a second overtime. The victory at Oklahoma seemed very impressive until you take a close look at what Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M did to the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl.
Did Notre Dame deserve to even be in the championship game? Yes. The Irish were undefeated. It wasn’t their fault that their opponents often turned out to be duds.
That, though, is the problem in college football right now. If Notre Dame had somehow deigned to be in a conference this season, it might very well have been good enough to win the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big East. Sure, Oregon might have beaten the Irish, but the Ducks lost their chance to quack about anything when they lost to Stanford. The same can be said for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes were on probation.
All of which means that Notre Dame, as champion of any other conference, might have been good enough to finish seventh in the SEC.
Which is an issue for college football going forward.
Next season will, mercifully, be the last under the current BCS system. The four-team playoff is still a far cry from the kind of postseason system that should be in place, but it is an improvement.
The biggest question facing the BCS gurus now is how those four teams will be selected. Fortunately, the conference champions cop-out should not be available because there are five (so-called) major conferences and only four slots. The problem is this: If you entrust your selection committee to choose the four best teams regardless of conference and they do it fairly and honestly (which is no better than a 50-50 shot, based on the performance year in and year out of the men’s basketball tournament selection committee) you could end up with three SEC teams every year. Except in years when you have four.
Who were the four best teams this season? Alabama, Oregon, Georgia and either South Carolina or Texas A&M. If you left Oregon out of the equation based on its loss to Stanford, the SEC could have gone four for four. For the record, those four SEC schools did not lose once to a non-SEC team all season.
Those questions will be dealt with in the future. For the moment, Alabama, which is now 49-5 the last four seasons, should be celebrated. The Tide has rolled.
For previous columns by John Feinstein, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein.