MIAMI — Shortly after he arrived early Tuesday morning to pick up three national championship trophies that awaited him, Alabama coach Nick Saban was already talking about the future. That's the way it's got to be when you're the king of the hill — and trying to stay there.
On Monday night, then-No. 2 Alabama dominated then-top ranked Notre Dame 42-14 to become only the third program ever to win three titles in four seasons. The Irish were playing in their first national title game since 1988.
Saban, who is in his sixth season with the Tide, now has four title rings, but you won't catch him wearing them to show off — although at this point he could.
"I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at," he said half-joking. "… I think the satisfaction, enjoyment, comes from the fact that you know you did your best to be the best you could be at what you were trying to do."
To understand just how good Alabama was, look no further than the Tide's first three possessions — scoring drives of 82, 61 and 80 yards. That's 21 points in just under 11 minutes — including 90 rushing and 112 passing yards. Alabama led 2:47 into the game and the Tide's offensive line dominated Notre Dame's touted front seven throughout.
For Irish coach Brian Kelly, the bitterly disappointing loss shows where Notre Dame needs to improve.
"We've got to get physically stronger, continue to close the gap there," Kelly said. "… They're back-to-back national champs. So that's what it looks like. Measure yourself against that, and I think it was pretty clear across the board what we have to do. We're all going to learn, not just the players but the coaches."
So, too, will Alabama. Saban won't allow it to be any other way. He said Tuesday that to ensure a legitimate shot at a third straight title, the next few days for his players must be more reflective than celebratory.
"I really hope that we all appreciate what we accomplished and understand what it took to accomplish it, rather than just revel and marvel in what we really did," Saban said. "Because if you appreciate something and you understand what it took, I think that you may be more committed to what you need to do in the future to continue to be successful. So every opponent that we play next year will certainly have it targeted on their schedule to beat us, so we'll have a lot of challenges. And the team that we have next year is 0-0.
"Even though I really appreciate what this team accomplished, and I'm very, very proud of what they accomplished, we do need to start for the challenges of the new season very quickly with the team that we have coming back."
Celebration is over. Now back to work.
RATINGS NEWS MIXED: The title game's television rating was up from last season, but the lopsided score kept viewership down. ESPN said the game drew a 15.1 fast national rating. The 26.4 million viewers were up 9 percent from last year's Tide win over LSU, but down from the 27.3 million for ESPN's first BCS championship two years ago, Auburn's tense win over Oregon. Ratings represent the percentage of U.S. homes with TVs tuned into a program.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]