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Were you watching, Notre Dame? You see a little Fightin' Irish in Bama?


ATLANTA -- Did you watch it, Irish? More to the point, did you cringe?

Or did you see an opening?

It was a contest of manly men -- giving up a combined 60 points. A toe-to-toe gut-punching contest to see whose eyes would water first -- eventually decided by a bomb. A winning drive against the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, flubbed. There were two faked punts, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown.

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It was a game of head shots and deep shots.

Certainly the nation's No. 1 team had to gather somewhere to watch the SEC title game on Saturday with a fleeting interest in its next opponent.

So what's the verdict, Irish? You have the next 37 days to decide.

The film will show Alabama beat Georgia 32-28 in this de facto national semifinal creating as many questions as answers. In one glorious afternoon turned into night, the No. 2 Tide looked both unbeatable and vulnerable.

Georgia's Aaron Murray -- 1-10 against ranked teams in his career -- was going to finally do it, until he didn't. A tipped pass at the end allowed the game's final seconds to bleed out with receiver Chris Conley laying at the Alabama 5.

Manti Te’o could have had a field day. So would Brian Kelly running his two-back attack against an Alabama defense that gave up 394 yards. Or maybe not. The SEC tends to spin games like this into excellence, keeping its faults in-house. What resembled a Big 12 shootout, will be just a private matter between Southern rivals that got a bit out of hand.

"You always have a chance in the SEC," Tide tight end Michael Williams said.

He was describing Alabama's rise from the BCS dead three weeks ago. The Tide made a Heisman favorite out of Johnny Manziel and raised hopes of millions who had gotten sick of their monotonous run.

"We played every game like it was our last," Williams said.

Fortunately, Oregon and Kansas State did not. Their November losses created this moment. BCS hell meant Alabama dropped only to No. 4 after that Texas A&M loss on Nov. 10. For the second consecutive year they were blessed after losing at home in November, able to play for the national championship within a month.

Alabama? Destiny's darlings? Four weeks ago to the day, the Tide rallied to win at LSU with a finish they've already nicknamed "The Drive." When Georgia fell those 5 yards short of the winning score as time ran out Saturday, Alabama freshman corner Geno Smith had the obvious label waiting.

"I guess, 'The Stop,' " he said.

Except it was more than that. The Tide is great and lucky at this point. Punishing and yielding. They're also in the BCS championship game again with history dripping from the Georgia Dome rafters. A chance for a third national championship in four years. A chance to add "dynasty" next to their names. A chance to break a glorious college football tie. Bama and Notre Dame are tied with eight AP national championships each.

It will be a hell of a tiebreaker in South Florida. But they'll never forget Saturday night.

"It's like a national championship in itself," Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said.

That's probably how it will be remembered -- an experience that the BCS title game will have a hard time topping. Six lead changes in the showcase for the league with six straight titles. Smashing, bloody, intimidating football that only began with a cheap shot by Alabama's Quinton Dial to Murray's head in the first half. It went unflagged. Dial may not get the luxury of suiting up for Notre Dame when SEC officials examine the film.

"We jabbed, we jabbed, we jabbed and finally got the knockout punch at the end," Alabama tight end Michael Williams said fittingly.

It was a game dominated by two men who couldn't have more inappropriate surnames -- Gurley and Lacy. Alabama's Eddie Lacy ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns. That outdid Georgia's Todd Gurley, who went for 122 yards and two touchdowns of his own. In between those two, there was Alabama's T.J. Yeldon going for 153.

With 6½ minutes left in the third quarter it was hard to give Alabama a chance. Georgia's Alec Ogletree had just run 55 yards with a blocked field goal put the Dawgs up 21-10.

"When I saw that No. 9 running down the field with a blocked field goal, I said, 'Yeah, that's a problem,' " Nick Saban said.

The game seemed to flip from a Georgia rout to Alabama lead in about three minutes. Alabama made the score 21-16 late in the third quarter. Without hesitating, Saban went for two. Without hesitating, the play call was a hand off up the gut to Yeldon. Who makes that kind of play call with a conference/national championship on the line?

On this night, the one that came from 11 behind.

With 195 seconds left, AJ McCarron found Bama receiver Amari Cooper who found himself open deep down the left side for the winning 45-yard reception. Georgia cornerback Damian Swann may relive Cooper slipping behind him in his dreams for the rest of his life.

"Being that close," said Georgia All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones, "is something you'll always think about."

This Alabama team with little star power, then, has just enough power, enough juice to survive. Georgia hasn't won an SEC title since 2005 but won a lot of respect. This was going to be their night taking the lead first, then scoring the first two touchdowns of the second half.

Getting the ball with 68 seconds left, Murray stared down that Alabama D from his own 15. Hearts were in throats. Alabama's Dee Milliner seemingly ended it with an interception near midfield, but it was overturned upon instant replay review.

"I caught it," Milliner insisted, "Got my arm under it."

That allowed Murray to complete 4 of 5 passes for 73 yards to get to the Alabama 5, but that's where the dream died. There will be criticism. Georgia coach Mark Richt had a chance to call for a spike a couple of times.

And why in the Wide, Wide World of Sports was any pattern run short of the end zone from the Bama 8 with time running out? Conley caught Murray's last pass, tipped by Mosley.

"I would have spiked it," Bama corner Smith said.

Georgia receiver Tavarres King said, "We cheesed up, messed up."

Did you watch, Irish? Did you see a little bit of yourselves in the mirror in the ATL? Did you see a team just like yourselves? Reasonable folks can argue about the talent level of the two national title game participants but it's clear what's ahead.

The luck of the Irish is about to meet tenacity of the Tide.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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