Alabama football playing Notre Dame in Dallas is better than in New Orleans this year | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Nick Saban spent his Sunday morning attending Mass, not that he needed any divine intervention with the College Football Playoff Committee.

Alabama football was No. 1 in the CFP final rankings, as was certain after Saturday night’s thrilling win over Florida. The opponent will be Notre Dame, which may or may not be better than Texas A&M. The Fighting Irish did have the power of name recognition and a national television following. An Alabama-Texas A&M rematch wouldn’t have thrilled anyone. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the game everyone would want to see would be a rematch of the Florida game, but the Gators’ three losses precluded that, of course.

(From what I saw, I’d take a full-strength Florida on a neutral field against anyone in America except Alabama or Clemson, but there is no amount of scrubbing that can remove that LSU loss.) There has been some national chatter that Texas A&M’s omission was a sign that SEC power might be waning, which might have been true if Oklahoma or Cincinnati had been chosen. Notre Dame is always going to have an edge. So is Alabama, so that’s not a starting point for a rant, just a dose of reality.

Dec 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA;  Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses (32) and Alabama linebacker Christian Harris (8) celebrate a game-ending sack of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) to hand Alabama a 52-46 victory in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

If there was a mild surprise for Alabama, it was the destination. Alabama has had a close relationship with New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl since before the Paul “Bear” Bryant years, although it was Bryant who solidified that bond. The SEC has been partnered with the Sugar Bowl for many years: 2020 made a difference, though. So Alabama will be playing in Dallas. 

The reason? The city of New Orleans’ plan, as it has been with the Saints, was to allow only 3,000 fans to attend. AT&T Stadium in metro Dallas will allow around 16,000, accommodating far more Alabama (and Fighting Irish) fans even though the trip will be longer.

Other factors: Alabama has played in Dallas frequently and is comfortable with the venue. Lastly, the ambiance that makes New Orleans a great destination isn’t exactly compatible with social distancing, even if you keep your distance from Bourbon Street. Alabama will be back in the Sugar Bowl someday, but in the Year of the Pandemic, sprawling Dallas makes more sense. 

If there was one Saban prayer Sunday morning that went unanswered, it was the one he anticipated Saturday night: Landon Dickerson will require knee surgery. His season is over. There is depth enough with Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Chris Owens, but replacing a body on the line is not the same as replacing the beating heart of a team. Comparing injuries is a bit ghoulish, but Dickerson’s absence is just as significant, in a different way, as Jaylen Waddle’s. Such injuries might also be attributable to playing 11 games in a season instead of six, but that’s not a talking point that the Selection Committee considered. 

Saban didn’t deliver a sermon on Sunday morning, at Mass or on ESPN. Alabama did teach a lesson over the course of season. Hard work was rewarded. Now comes the even harder part: the finish.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt