Alabama will compete in the College Football Playoff National Championship for the fifth time in six years after beating Notre Dame 31-14 in the Rose Bowl.
The Crimson Tide opened as a three-score favorite and delivered a dominant performance to justify that status.
For the Fighting Irish, this is yet another overwhelming defeat on the big stage. Despite that big win over Clemson in November, the gap between them and the Power Five elite seems to be as wide as ever.
It was the Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith show. Harris went for 100-plus yards for the sixth time this season, and Smith tied a Rose Bowl record with three touchdown receptions.
Smith earned MVP honors on offense, while Patrick Surtain II was the defensive MVP.
In general, the night unfolded almost exactly as everybody expected the moment Alabama and Notre Dame were paired up in the semifinals. The Crimson Tide averaged 7.9 yards per play compared to 4.7 for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame at least covered, so that was something.
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama: 25-of-30, 297 yards, four touchdowns; five carries, 12 yards
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama: 15 carries, 125 yards; four receptions, 30 yards
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama: seven receptions, 130 yards, three touchdowns
Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame: 27-of-39, 229 yards, one interception; 15 carries, 55 yards, one touchdown
Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame: 16 carries, 64 yards, one touchdown; eight receptions, 31 yards
Smith, Harris Prove Unstoppable
Notre Dame's first scoring drive required 15 plays to go 75 yards and ate 8:03 off the clock. Alabama responded by needing just six plays to go 84 yards in less than two minutes, 30 seconds. There's simply no respite against this offense.
Brian Kelly probably had flashbacks to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game when he watched Harris' 53-yard run in the first quarter.
That BCS title game is a helpful reminder of how Nick Saban has evolved. T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy combined to run for 248 yards on 41 carries. In a previous iteration of the Alabama attack, Harris may have logged a similar workload.
Instead, Saban made sure to set up situations where the ball could wind up in Smith's hands.
We've seen what Alabama can look like with its foot on the gas (a 45-14 halftime lead against LSU). You got the feeling Saban was holding something back once it became clear his players were dialed in. When your offense is nearly getting a first down on every snap, you can seriously embarrass your opponent if you're committed enough.
It's theoretically possible to beat Alabama—Florida almost did it in the SEC title game. And this probably isn't even the best team Nick Saban has had in Tuscaloosa. Good luck trying to take down the Tide, though.
New Year, Same Notre Dame
The CFP selection committee faced a conundrum when it put together its final rankings. On merit, Notre Dame was as deserving as any other contender for the fourth seed. But the Fighting Irish still looked to be below the level at which Alabama played during the regular season.
When Chris Tyree fumbled the opening kickoff, it set the tone for a story college football fans have seen numerous times before.
Falling behind by two scores was what Notre Dame couldn't afford to let happen.
The Irish offense is generally pretty deliberate, with that eight-minute drive that spanned the first and second quarters a prime example. A 14-point first quarter deficit required not only leaving that comfort zone but also getting defensive stops and turning those into points.
Friday's game was a total disaster, and Notre Dame never looked competitive. There wasn't a point after Smith's second touchdown when you thought a comeback might be in the cards.
At some point, Notre Dame's luck in New Year's Six bowls will turn around. When that happens is anybody's guess.
Alabama awaits the winner of the the Sugar Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson. The Crimson Tide will meet the victor on Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.