FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — So much has changed in a year for Alabama Crimson Tide, yet, at the same time, so little.
A year ago in New Orleans, Alabama was headquartered right at ground zero of Mardi Gras-like madness, its hotel even on the Canal Street side of the French Quarter. This year, the Crimson Tide drew the hotel closest to the high tide of fan lunacy and distractions, right smack dab on Miami Beach’s South Beach (Notre Dame is about 12 miles up the coast in starry-named but slightly more sedate Hollywood).
The opponent has changed, too. A year ago, Alabama was preparing for a foe it knew oh so well in LSU. The Crimson Tide had the added psychological advantage of trying to gain revenge and a title, twin targets that it so capably and completely captured in a smothering 21-0 demolition of the Tigers.
It wasn’t so much that Alabama made wholesale changes for the rematch, it just did what it does to virtual perfection. The Crimson Tide didn’t have a turnover that January night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and committed just one penalty for 5 yards.
“For LSU, we did a lot of preparation the first time,” said All-America offensive lineman Barrett Jones, referring to his team’s 9-6 overtime loss to LSU in Tuscaloosa the previous November. “We didn’t really change much the second time; we just executed better.”
Whether Jones was referring to his team’s execution or its execution of LSU in the championship game is open to interpretation.
Now Alabama aims to do the same to the Fighting Irish.
“It’s different,” Bama linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “That is one of the main things. It will be a new atmosphere and a new team.”
While Notre Dame is something of an unknown commodity for Alabama compared to LSU, there are considerable similarities.
Like LSU, Notre Dame is unbeaten and ranked No. 1. Like the Tigers, the Irish got here on the strength of its defense — a defense that as was the case for LSU is rivaled only by Alabama’s — with an offense that is far less potent and imposing by comparison.
Notre Dame isn’t a mirror image of LSU, but the Fighting Irish bear enough of a resemblance to the Fighting Tigers that the only game in which Bama would likely feel more at home playing is the Iron Bowl. Notre Dame even has a charismatic defensive player as the face of its team: middle linebacker Manti Te’o, who like former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
The most important thing going for Alabama, though, is experience. For all its success this season, for all its glittering history, Notre Dame hasn’t been in this position since before any of its players were born. Knute Rockne, George Gipp, the Four Horsemen and even wee “Rudy” Ruettiger can’t help this Irish team now.
Different year, different opponent, different ground. But it’s a scene Alabama knows how to play very well, and that’s an extra high sand dune for Notre Dame to climb.