It was the 2012 season.
Notre Dame made tremendous strides under coach Brian Kelly, going from unranked in the preseason to the top spot in the rankings by the end of the regular season.
In one game, reality struck the Irish in the face.
Reality, as it turned out, was Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, which dismantled Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS national championship team.
On Sunday, it was pointed out to Kelly that his 2012 team was celebrated before entering the game with Alabama. This year, it appears Notre Dame is in “the background.” He was asked if the role change has helped with preparation and focus for the Irish as it prepares for No. 2 Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.
“Well, I think the best thing about it is the 2012 Alabama team is not in this Playoff bracket because people forget how physical of a football team that was, offensively and defensively,” Kelly said. So that’s probably the best news.
“The second part of that is that this is a better-prepared football team, coaching the head coach, everybody associated with it, our staff, support staff. Everybody’s been through it. And I can prepare our players better for it, as well. Our football team is much more balanced. We were going into that game on the backs of our defense. We can hold our own on offense in this run, as well, so I just think better prepared all around, and you know, it doesn’t change the competition level. There’s still great football teams, but let’s not forget that 2012 Alabama team was pretty special.”
No. 3 Notre Dame took the week off after beating USC 24-17 in the season finale.
It was a different story in 2012.
Everett Golson completed 21 of 36 for 270 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. But, Alabama’s defense held the Irish running game to 32 yards, which was 170 below their season average.
Eddie Lacy finished with 140 yards on 20 carries and scored a rushing and receiving touchdown for Alabama. AJ McCarron completed 20 of 28 passes for four touchdowns and 264 yards.
This year’s Alabama team is outscoring opponents 48-15, while outgaining them 528-295. In contrast, the 2012 team outscored opponents 39-11 and outgained opponents 446-260.
Mark Heim is a sports reporter for The Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Heim.