Notre Dame went from unranked in the preseason to the top spot in the rankings by the end of the regular season, winning two games in overtime and three other times by seven points or less.
But the long wait for a championship - the Irish haven't finished No. 1 since 1988 - will have to wait at least one more year.
"They just did what Alabama does," moaned Manti Te'o, Notre Dame's star linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist, trying to digest an embarrassing loss in his final college game.
Golson will be back.
He completed his first season as the starter by going 21 of 36 for 270 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. But the young quarterback got no help from the running game, which was held to 32 yards - 170 below its season average.
"We've got to get physically stronger, continue close the gap there," said Brian Kelly, the Irish's third-year coach. "Just overall, we need to see what it looks like. Our guys clearly know what it looks like now - a championship football team. That's back-to-back national champions. That's what it looks like. That's what you measure yourself against there. It's pretty clear across the board what we have to do."
Kelly vowed this was only beginning, insisting the bar has been raised in South Bend no matter what the outcome.
"We made incredible strides to get to this point," he said. "Now it's pretty clear what we've got to do to get over the top."
Alabama is already there but still longing for more, not content even after the second-biggest rout of the BCS era that began in 1999. The only title game that was more of a blowout was USC's 55-19 victory over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl, a title that was later vacated because of NCAA violations.
You could almost hear television sets around the country flipping to other channels as Alabama poured it on, a hugely anticipated matchup between two of the nation's most storied programs reduced to a laugher when the Tide scored on its first three possessions.
"We're going for it next year again," said offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandijo, only a sophomore and already the owner of two rings. "And again. And again. And again. I love to win. That's why I came here."
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
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BCS title game
Pregame color, key plays and other moments from 'Bama's blowout win.
Check out the action from the postseason.
Check out which players were best of the best at each position.
Check out some of the college football cheerleaders from across the country.