It was a long night for Notre Dame, but that doesn't take away from its stunning season
Well, that wasn't how a thrilling college football season was supposed to end.
Notre Dame vs. Alabama was supposed to be an epic, hard-nosed battle that represented just how entertaining the past three months have been. At the very least, it shouldn't have been over in the first 10 minutes.
No one told the Crimson Tide, who jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, dominated the Irish in every aspect of the game and rolled to a 42-14 win.
For everyone besides the Crimson Tide faithful, it was a pretty underwhelming final game.
Let's take a look at something positive to make us all forget about that.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
It was a truly magical season for Notre Dame.
The Irish beat Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC en route to a 12-0 regular season and an appearance in the BCS National Championship.
That's not too shabby considering there were pundits at the beginning of the season questioning whether or not Notre Dame would even make a bowl after winning just eight games each of the previous two years.
Well, thanks to several youngsters growing up before our eyes and Manti Te'o putting together a near-Heisman season as the leader of one of the nation's best defenses, the Irish made it to a pretty decent bowl, after all.
Granted, they got smacked up in that bowl by a better team, but it doesn't take away from a season that easily exceeded everyone's expectations.
Oregon State Beavers
Before the season, Oregon State was picked by the Pac-12 media to finish last in the North division behind powerhouses such as California and Washington State.
But the Beavers weren't exactly willing to play along.
They started the season with a win at home against then-No. 13 Wisconsin then went into the Rose Bowl and knocked off No. 19 UCLA. That started a streak of six straight wins that bumped them all the way up to No. 7 in the entire nation, which was just one spot behind their projected division finish of sixth.
Mike Riley's squad came up short in Seattle against the Washington Huskies, but it continued to hover right around No. 10 in the rankings for the rest of the season.
When it was all said and done, the Beavers, despite never locking down a consistent starter under center, went 9-4 with three of those losses coming to UW, Stanford and Texas by a combined 11 points.
The defense was physical, Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks established themselves as one of the best wide-receiver duos in America, and the Beavers were easily one of the best surprises of the year.
San Jose State Spartans
I think it's probably safe to call this the Year of the Mid-Major.
Northern Illinois started the "Maction" hashtag, won 12 games, climbed the polls, annoyed Kirk Herbstreit and made it to the Orange Bowl. It's hard to find a more complete year than that.
Louisville—OK, so the Big East isn't "technically" a mid-major, but it certainly didn't look like a "major," either—took care of Florida in impressive fashion in the Sugar Bowl.
Boise State, Kent State and several other schools added in their own extraordinary seasons.
But none was more implausible than San Jose State's run to an 11-2 season, a final ranking in the top 25 and an awesome intro video:
The Spartans went 5-7 last year, were picked to finish second-to-last in the WAC (behind Idaho, which went 1-11 on the season) and appeared primed for another rebuilding year under Mike MacIntyre.
Which campaign was more surprising?
All they did was nearly knock off Stanford (a team that beat the Spartans by nearly eight touchdowns last year) to start the season and then won 10 of their next 11 before defeating Bowling Green to win the Military Bowl.
The David Fales-to-Noel Grigsby combo was easily the best quarterback-to-receiver duo in the nation no one was talking about, De'Leon Eskridge looked explosive at running back and the defense ranked 24th in the nation in points allowed per game.
This was all an incredibly shocking step forward for a school that had been to just one bowl (in 2006) in the last 21 seasons.