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How Alabama and Notre Dame got to the Rose Bowl

In an unusual “Rose Bowl” semifinal, two of college football’s legacy programs are set to do battle.

SEC Championship - Alabama v Florida Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2020 college football season has been so odd that the “Rose Bowl” College Football Playoff semifinal contest will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.

But in that game will feature two of the most iconic legacy brands the sport has to offer when the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide meets the No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

How Alabama got to the Rose Bowl

COVID-19 altered nearly everything across the sport but what it didn’t alter was Alabama ruling the SEC with an iron fist and dominating their way into another CFP berth.

At 11-0, the Tide dominated their way through the SEC with the nation’s top offense per SP+. Bama put up at least 38 points in every single one of their contests, often crushing opponents by four touchdowns or more. Their biggest test came in the SEC Championship game when Florida’s offense nearly matched their production, but ultimately came up just short in a 52-46 victory for the Tide.

Highlighting the 2020 season was Nick Saban’s squad boasting not one, not two, but three Heisman finalists on the offensive side of the football in the form of quarterback Mac Jones (76.9 completion %, 3,379 yards, 32 touchdowns, four interceptions), running back Najee Harris (214 carries, 1,262 yards, 24 touchdowns) and wide receiver Devonta Smith (98 receptions, 1,511 yards, 17 touchdowns), who stepped in as the Tide’s top target after Jaylen Waddle went down with a season-ending ankle injury. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

How Notre Dame got to the Rose Bowl

Because of most conferences restricting non-conference matchups due to COVID, Notre Dame was forced to abandon its independent status and temporarily join a league for the first time in its storied history. And it worked!

Setting up shop in the ACC for the season, the Irish sprinted out to an undefeated 10-0 regular season run that included a thrilling 47-40 double overtime victory over a Trevor Lawrence-less Clemson squad on Nov. 7. Quarterback Ian Book and running back Kyren Williams mastered the controls on the offensive side of the ball while the dominance of linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (56 tackles, 11 TFLs, three forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks, one interception) earned him he honor of being named ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

However, the Irish’s dream of a perfect season was dashed in the conference title game when Clemson, with a healthy Lawrence in tow, avenged their regular season loss with a 34-10 thrashing of ND. Following the loss, critics argued that the Irish should’ve been left out of the College Football Playoff field in favor of Texas A&M. But the selection committee ultimately kept the Golden Domers in the top four.