Luck has been, and could be, a factor for Notre Dame and Alabama

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It is easy to embrace the thought Alabama will defeat Notre Dame in Monday night’s Bowl Championship Series title game at Sun Life Stadium.

Alabama (12-1) is on dynasty’s cusp, seeking its third title in four years under Coach Nick Saban. People are already trying to compare Saban with Bear Bryant.


“I wouldn’t agree with that at all,” Saban said in what was absolutely the correct answer.

Notre Dame (12-0) hasn’t won a championship since 1988, and many would say the Irish have been looking over a four-leaf clover since their opener in Ireland.


“I think you get what you deserve,” third-year Coach Brian Kelly countered on Sunday. “You have to have more than luck. You have to have a will, a determination. You have confidence.”

That sounds right, though determination had nothing to do with Pittsburgh’s kicker missing that potential game-winner in overtime Nov. 3 in South Bend, Ind.

The oddsmakers have Alabama at nearly a double-digit favorite in advance of one of the most anticipated college football games in years.

So why does all this sound like a setup?


Because it’s basically the carbon-copy scenario we had 10 years ago when underdog Ohio State took on dynastic Miami for the BCS title in Phoenix.

Miami was defending champions and working on a 34-game winning streak when it took the field that night.

That game was at Sun Devil, not Life, Stadium.

Anyone remember what happened?


Ohio State, of course, pulled off the double-overtime upset and finished 14-0.

Notre Dame is almost a mirror of that Ohio State team while Alabama is comparable, though not as powerful, as Miami.

People and their programs should really stop apologizing for luck.

Ohio State’s team in 2002 was lucky. So what? It won seven games by 11 points or fewer including the title game decided by a controversial pass-interference call.

Ohio State beat Cincinnati by four in a game that came down to the final play. Ohio State survived Purdue, 10-6, thanks to a fourth-down-conversion pass for touchdown. The Buckeyes won other games by the score of 19-14, 13-7 and 14-9.

Notre Dame’s journey has been just as harrowing — and (so far) as successful. The Irish narrowly defeated by three a Purdue team that Oklahoma State scorched by 44 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, survived overtime against Stanford and triple overtime against Pitt.

Was it not “lucky” officials didn’t catch Notre Dame with two players wearing uniform No. 2 on the overtime kick that could have knocked the Irish out of the title game?

What about getting to play USC without injured quarterback Matt Barkley?

Truth is, you need luck to win championships.

Alabama had its fair share in 2009 and again last year when it advanced to the title game without winning its own division.

The Southeastern Conference isn’t playing its seventh straight BCS title game just because it is the nation’s best conference. It also needed some fairy dust.

“People are probably getting tired of us,” Alabama center Barrett Jones acknowledged this week. “That’s all right, we don’t really mind.”

And he shouldn’t — but he should also count his lucky stars.

The Crimson Tide saw its title hopes seemingly dashed this season after a home loss to two-loss Texas A&M;, only to get back in because Oregon lost a heartbreaker to two-loss Stanford.

Is one-loss Alabama really better than one-loss Oregon?

Maybe, maybe not, but those are the breaks.

Now that both teams have arrived, you can go with the odds or just assume anything can happen.

Miami discovered a decade ago that Ohio State wasn’t listening to sports-talk radio or reading the papers.

Monday’s game is drenched in history and a lot of history suggests it could go either way.

Alabama and Notre Dame have their differences in counting national championships. Alabama claims 14 while Notre Dame’s consideration of only “consensus” crowns puts the Irish ahead, 11-10. Notre Dame claims it leads Alabama, 21-18, using all polls since 1900.

The easiest way to settle is to note each program has eight Associated Press titles — and no other school has more.

Both schools play intense defense and are intelligently, and exactingly, coached.

Saban is one of the game’s great organizers and mind manipulators. He showed his team a video of New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera to emphasize the focus it takes to close out an opponent.

“Three outs,” Saban said. “How am I going to get three outs?”

Kelly doesn’t yet have Saban’s pedigree, but he’s working on it.

Kelly won national titles at Division II Grand Valley State, but those were different.

“We were staying at a Best Western,” he said Sunday. “I don’t know that anyone knew where we were.”

Kelly, trying to win a national title in his third year at Notre Dame, has used each close win as a bonding exercise.

“Fighting Irish, that’s who we are,” Kelly said. “We’re going to battle you.”

Kelly is a pragmatist who thinks things happen for a reason.

“So if it’s destiny, that’s fine by me,” he said. “I have not built any program based upon we’re going to get good luck.”

He probably won’t mind, though, if any more comes his way.

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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