Alabama football then and now: Where the 2012 national championship game stars are today
Was Alabama’s 2012 national championship Nick Saban’s best?
While they did not finish the season undefeated, the Crimson Tide’s emphatic 42-14 victory over Notre Dame in the BCS title game epitomized their dynastic run.
Ten years later, we wanted to take a look back at the main characters from the championship game further established the Saban dynasty, his third of six national titles at Alabama, and catch up with what everyone (including those on the Fighting Irish side) is doing today.
Then: Saban won his third national championship at Alabama in the win against Notre Dame, going back-to-back after also winning the 2011 BCS title. The 2012 team has an argument for Saban’s best during his tenure in Tuscaloosa. Although they lost to Texas A&M during the regular season, they got the help they needed to find themselves back in the BCS hunt and took advantage by beating Georgia in an instant classic and throttling the Fighting Irish in what many considered a statement win reminding everyone who was truly college football’s king.
Now: Saban has won six national championships at Alabama, amassing 188 wins and just 27 losses to form college football’s modern dynasty, perhaps even surpassing the golden years of the Paul “Bear” Bryant era in Tuscaloosa. The last title came in 2020 when the Tide dominated Ohio State in a perfect season. They reached the CFP final again in 2021 before losing to Georgia and failed to make the final four in 2022, although they played Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl to finish the year 11-2. While some thought the most recent season showed signs Saban’s coaching window might be closing, he just signed another top recruiting class and does not appear to be slowing down.
Then: The Crimson Tide quarterback played a perfect game in Miami, throwing for 264 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. McCarron found wide receiver Amari Cooper twice, plus tight end Michael Williams and running back Eddie Lacy, for scores as Bama dominated all four quarters and gave the QB his second BCS title in a row as starter (third total).
Now: After spending eight seasons as a backup in the NFL, McCarron will return to pro football next month, joining the new XFL. The winningest QB in Alabama history hasn’t played since Aug. 21, 2021, when he tore his ACL during an Atlanta Falcons’ preseason game. When the revamped XFL opens its league-wide training camp, he will report to the St. Louis Battlehawks ahead of the Feb. 18 kickoff. McCarron married Katherine Webb, a model and former Miss Alabama USA, in 2014. They have three sons.
Then: One of the most decorated players in Alabama football history, Jones played multiple positions on the offensive line and won three national championships in this career. He also won several individual awards including the Outland Trophy and Rimington Trophy. His competitive fire boiled over in the title game against Notre Dame when, despite having an insurmountable 42-14 lead, Jones and his quarterback McCarron had a very public disagreement on the snap count, as Jones ultimately shoved his QB for all to see. The pair hugged it out when the clock hit zero, with each guy later insisting he was right. Saban discussed the incident during a “60 Minutes” interview: “The game’s probably won, and they’re still trying to get it right, aight, which to me is the kind of pride and performance that you want in the players.”
Now: The St. Louis Rams drafted Jones in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He would also play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles before retiring after the 2016 season. He then joined ESPN Radio as a color analyst on college football games. Jones returned to Tuscaloosa during the 2022 Alabama season, where he served as honorary captain ahead of the Texas A&M game while commemorating the 2012 national title season.
Then: After backing up Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson his first to years in Tuscaloosa, Lacy earned the starting job in 2012 when he rumbled for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns. One of Nick Saban’s most punishing running backs, Lacy ran for 140 yards and accounted for two touchdowns against Notre Dame, later appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated after the dominant performance.
Now: Lacy declared for the NFL Draft in 2013, going to the Green Bay Packers where he had an outstanding first two seasons, earning honors like NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and Second-Team All-Pro. His production fell off the next two seasons after injuries, and he would sign with the Seattle Seahawks for a brief stint in 2017 before retiring from football in 2019. In 2021, a fan tweeted at Lacy to ask if he would consider making an NFL comeback. The Alabama great, via GIF, suggested that was not likely.
Then: A blue-chip freshman recruit, Cooper had an immediate impact as Alabama’s go-to wide receiver. He had 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns during the 2012 season and certainly looked the part with six catches, 105 yards and two touchdowns in the national title game.
Now: After an injury-plagued 2013 season, Cooper became the fixture of Alabama’s offense in 2014 under new OC Lane Kiffin. A Heisman finalist, he amassed 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns before getting drafted fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders in the NFL Draft. With the Raiders and later the Dallas Cowboys, Cooper had multiple 1,000-yard seasons and made four Pro Bowls. Now the No. 1 WR for the Cleveland Browns, he had 1,109 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in the 2022 season, further solidifying himself as one of the best in the game.
Then: One of Alabama’s most dominant interior offensive linemen, Warmack won three national titles wearing crimson. He also earned unanimous All-American honors his senior season before being drafted 10th overall by the Tennessee Titans.
Now: Warmack started every game his first three seasons with the Titans before an injury ended his 2016 early. He signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, playing snaps in their Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots. After a year away from football, Warmack signed a deal with the Seattle Seahawks in 2020 before opting out of the season due to the pandemic. The team brought him back for a workout the next year, but Warmack remains a free agent today.
Then: Already a two-time champion in Tuscaloosa, Williams made his mark against Notre Dame with the second touchdown of the game, a 3-yard pass from A.J. McCarron in the first quarter. He would participate in the Senior Bowl before he was selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the 2013 draft.
Now: Williams, who was a standout tight end at Pickens County High School in Reform, spent five years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots (with whom he won a Super Bowl), before returning to his high school to take over the football program. Williams was selected as head coach of the North team in the 64th annual North-South All-Star Football Game in December 2022.
Then: In his third season as head coach at Notre Dame, the former Cincinnati coach led the Fighting Irish back to glory — well, nearly — with some in sports media anointing them as a team of destiny during an undefeated regular season. Their hopes came crashing down when Alabama jumped to a 28-0 first half lead. When ESPN’s Heather Cox asked him what needed to happen to get back in the game, Kelly quipped, “Maybe Alabama doesn’t come back in the second half. It’s all Alabama.”
Now: Kelly coached his team to a rematch with Nick Saban in 2020, only to run into the buzz-saw that was Alabama’s undefeated national title team with DeVonta Smith, Mac Jones and Najee Harris. Kelly sought a change of scenery two years later, leaving South Bend for Baton Rouge where his newfound recruiting practices (and Southern accent) drew some criticism until his team shocked the Tide for an overtime win on their way to an improbable SEC western division championship.
Then: The Notre Dame captain had one of the most decorated seasons in college football history his senior year: He won the 2012 Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year Lott Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award and the Walter Camp Award. He was also named a Heisman Trophy finalist. Te’o finished with 10 total tackles in the BCS title game. In 2012, Te’o was the victim of a widely publicized catfishing scandal when Naya Tuiasosopo created fake online persona Lennay Kekua with whom Te’o became romantically involved. Deadspin reported the hoax after the Alabama game, but Te’o became aware weeks before.
Now: The catfishing incident was the subject of the Netflix documentary, “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist,” which was released in August 2022. Drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2013, Te’o was named captain to the team in 2016 before suffering a torn Achilles. He last played on the Chicago Bears practice squad in 2021 and is now a free agent.
Then: As a sophomore, Golson led Notre Dame’s offense to an undefeated regular season behind his dual-threat abilities. Against Alabama, he threw for 270 yards with one touchdown and one interception but was stymied on the ground with -7 yards (and a touchdown).
Now: Golson served an academic suspension during the entire 2013 season before returning for one more year as QB. He would then transfer to Florida State during a productive but complicated season under head coach Jimbo Fisher. After going undrafted, Golson tried out for the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles before transitioning to the Canadian Football League in 2017.
Then: Any other year, Mosley probably wins the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker, but it was just Manti Te’o’s dream season. Still, Mosley shined as the Tide’s defensive leader and a consensus All-American. The Notre Dame win (in which he led the team with eight total tackles) would mark his second BCS title at Alabama, and he would win that Butkus Award the very next season.
Now: Selected 17th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2013 NFL Draft, Mosley has enjoyed a successful NFL career, earning five trips to the Pro Bowl and four second-team All-Pro honors. The prolific tackler leads his current team, the New York Jets, in that category.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Then: Once a highly touted recruit, Clinton-Dix contributed as a freshman to Alabama’s historically dominant 2011 team before assuming a more prominent role the next season when he led the team with five interceptions. Against Notre Dame, he posted seven total tackles and one pick at the start of the second half (the game’s only turnover).
Now: Clinton-Dix rejoined the Alabama football program on its player development staff in December. He announced his retirement from the NFL after playing in the league from 2014-2021. The former first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers spent three seasons at Alabama. “So that’s where my life is headed is into coaching and helping these kids … making the right choices as they get ready for their career heading to the NFL, and other avenues they want to endure after football is over with,” he told reporters in New Orleans.
Then: A Montgomery native and Miss Alabama USA 2012, Webb gained national fame when ESPN/ABC cameras found her in the stands and broadcaster Brent Musburger exclaimed to color commentator Kirk Herbstreit, “You quarterbacks get all the good-looking women.” Webb gained thousands of Twitter followers, and she made the most of her newfound fame by appearing on “Today” after the game, covering the Super Bowl for “Inside Edition,” working as a model in the 2013 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, competing on a celebrity diving reality show and judging the Miss USA pageant (after Donald Trump publicly invited her).
Now: Webb married McCarron in 2014. They have three sons. Webb-McCarron remains active on social media with more than 260,000 followers on Instagram, where she offers fans a glimpse into her family life and posts via various paid partnerships including Barefoot Wine, Zales jewelers and Raising Canes.
Then: The seasoned sports broadcaster called the title game with Kirk Herbstreit, going viral when he commented on A.J. McCarron’s then-girlfriend Katherine Webb. “I’m telling you, you quarterbacks get all the good-looking women,” he said. “What a beautiful woman. Wow!” ESPN apologized for Musburger’s comments the next day, though Webb insisted they did not bother her. Conan O’Brien’s TBS show had a recurring comedy bit wherein a staff writer portrayed Musburger on the phone as he made similar comments about O’Brien’s audience members’ physical appearances.
Now: Musburger left ESPN after announcing his retirement from broadcasting in 2017, but he returned to the booth the next year as the radio voice of the Oakland Raiders as they moved to Las Vegas, a role he kept through the 2021 season. Musburger recently mentioned the moment when he joined “The Shamrock” podcast last October. “Coach Kelly, who I know very well, now down at LSU having left Notre Dame,” he said. “I still tease him when he got blown out by Alabama in the national championship game, I took all the heat off him because I called a beauty queen beautiful. I was the villain that night in the eyes of the media, especially the woke journalists in some of the papers around the country.”
Then: Smart joined Saban’s staff in 2007 before taking over as defensive coordinator the next year up until the 2015 season, helping the Tide win four national championships with one dominant defense after another. The 2012 defense produced multiple NFL players such as CJ Mosley, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins. Alabama held Notre Dame to just 14 points and 302 total yards in the championship game, forcing one turnover.
Now: Smart took over as Georgia’s head coach in 2016, amassing an impressive 80-15 overall record with seven bowl victories, including the 2022 College Football Playoff championship. He led the Bulldogs to a national championship game appearance in 2017 after defeating Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. But he would fall to his old boss Nick Saban after Tua Tagovailoa connected with DeVonta Smith for a walk-off touchdown pass in overtime. Smart was 0-4 against Saban before he and his Bulldogs finally beat his old boss in last year’s national championship game. Georgia will play for a second straight national title on Monday as they face TCU in the CFP final in Los Angeles. Recruiting and winning at a high level, Smart should remain at or near the top of the mountain for the foreseeable future.
Then: Halfway through their six national championships since 2009, Nick Saban and the program put the world on notice that not much would change in the foreseeable future of college football — and it hasn’t. Not really, anyway, other than the emergence of the College Football Playoff just two seasons later, in which Alabama would become a central figure. The sports world thought the Crimson Tide left the title chase when Johnny Football put them away, but they snuck back in and established “joyless murderball” as the rule, not the exception. The world was abuzz to see two historic blue-bloods back at the top of the mountain, but at the apex of Saban’s run, Alabama showed everybody who was boss.
Now: In the 10 years since that emphatic victory, Alabama has remained a college football power, winning five SEC championships and three College Football Playoff titles. Some might argue three natties in 10 years seems like a worrisome pace for a Nick Saban program, and many have suggested his window of dominance has begun to close. But in those 10 years, they’ve played in seven of the nine CFPs and six of the finals (including four straight, 2015-2018). Saban continues to recruit at a feverish pace, so do not expect Alabama to remain out of contention for long.
Then: In just three seasons, Brian Kelly brought Notre Dame back to the national stage, playing for their first championship since 1988. The future looked bright for the Fighting Irish, despite the gulf of talent between them and a program like Alabama;s, with Kelly leading ND to the CFP semifinal eight years later.
Now: Kelly left South Bend for Baton Rouge, as assistant Marcus Freeman took over as head coach. During his inaugural stint, Notre Dame went 9-4 including a Gator Bowl victory over South Carolina. We’ll see if Freeman can continue Kelly’s success and keep Notre Dame relevant in the college football conversation.
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