Alabama hammered rival Auburn 49-0 to clinch the SEC West title and a date with Georgia in Atlanta.
By STEVE EUBANKS FS South
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There's always a chance, at least that's been conventional wisdom when it comes to rivalry games.
But not in this one.
Along the Walk of Champions, the brick and grass pavilion with all the statues outside Bryant-Denny Stadium, most of the fans were milling around taking pictures and talking about next week's SEC Championship Game.
When one man asked a buddy about hotels in Atlanta, the friend responded, "We gotta win today first."
There was a slight pause and then both broke out in snort-filled laughter. They knew the Tide could sleepwalk and beat Auburn.
And that is exactly what happened. In the biggest rout of the year,
Alabama put a painful whipping on their in-state rival, beating the Tigers 49-0 in a game that was hard to watch, even for Alabama fans who began hitting the exits before the end of the third quarter.
By then, it was so out of hand that both coaches cleared the benches, giving second- and third-string walk-ons something to tell their grandkids one day.
Alabama scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions, and could have run this one up into the record books. The Tide looked good, but it was hard to tell how good since Auburn looked as helpless as any team in college football.
"It's great for our players; it's great for our fans, and for everyone who conducted themselves with class," coach Nick Saban said afterward. Then in one of the biggest understatements of the year, he said, "That first half, our players played pretty well."
At halftime, Alabama led 42-0 having outgained Auburn 328 yards to 99. By game's end the Tide had racked up 483 yards of total offense, while the Tigers had 163, most of that coming in the fourth quarter when you had to go deep down the depth chart to figure out who was playing.
Alabama had 25 first downs, Auburn managed only seven, and the Tide converted 11 third downs while the Tigers had only four.
If there were a mercy rule in college football, they would have ended this one early.
Three consecutive plays early in the second quarter provided a microcosm of the afternoon.
1) Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron completed a swing pass to Christian Jones who should have been stopped for a loss. Two Auburn defenders missed him entirely while a third hung on for dear life until a fourth wrangled him out of bounds after an eight-yard gain. Jones is 5-foot-11, 185 pounds.
2) McCarron tripped on center Barrett Jones' ankle coming out of the snap. He should have gone down for a loss, but instead managed to hand the ball to Eddie Lacy who broke five Auburn tackles en route to a 32-yard gain.
3) McCarron found Amari Cooper in the end zone for a 37-yard pitch-and-catch touchdown. No Auburn defender was close.
Oh, how this game has changed. Two short years ago, the last time Auburn visited Tuscaloosa, Cam Newton made history with a three-touchdown comeback in the second half. It was the most electric and exciting game in the country and the one that locked up the Heisman for Newton.
This game made history as well. Auburn became the worst team ever two years removed from a national championship.
Not only did the Tigers finish winless in the SEC, they were outscored by conference opponents 272 to 81, and only looked competitive against LSU and Vanderbilt.
Alabama became the second SEC team in a row to hold Auburn scoreless. The other was Georgia, the team the Tide will face in the conference championship game for a shot at another BCS title.
"We're focused now on Georgia, which has a very good team," Saban said. "They've been playing very good recently; they have a tough defense, have a good quarterback who can throw the ball down the field; good runners. They're tough."
If there was a downside to the Tide's victory, it was in looking ahead to next week. Junior wide receiver Kenny Bell went down with a broken tibia in the first half. He will be out for the season. Bell wasn't needed to beat Auburn, but he might be against Georgia and will certainly be missed if the Tide makes it to Miami for the BCS Championship game.
"We're just going to focus on getting better," Saban said. "Our attention turns to Georgia now."
On the other side, Gene Chizik's attention turns to what happened and what's next. His fate is in the hands of university president Jay Gogue, who has been less than full-throated in his comments about the coach's future, especially in light of recent reports of more NCAA investigations into the Auburn football program.
It has been a spectacular fall.
Two years ago, Chizik wrote a book, "All In" about the championship season. At the subsequent tour, fans lined up outside and around the block at Barnes and Nobles and Books-a-Millions from Mobile to Atlanta. Now he'd have trouble filling a corner booth at Denny's.
"Obviously that was a very disappointing loss, embarrassing loss to our state rivals," Chizik said, looking like a man who had been hit with a board. "It was obvious to everybody that it was a sad performance: The Auburn fans, the Auburn alumni, don't deserve that."
Just what those fans and alumni will do about it remains to be seen.
Whether or not Chizik survives this, the worst Auburn season in 32 years, a couple of things can be gleaned from this game in Tuscaloosa:
Even with one loss, Alabama is as good as we thought. And, in the end, Auburn was as bad as advertised.