Almost as soon as it started, with few nervous moments but numerous awe-inspiring scenes, the regular season for Alabama football is over. The Crimson Tide is returning, less than a year later, to the scene where it last experienced any drama at all.
Back to Atlanta, back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, back against the Georgia Bulldogs, to the crucible in which the legend of Tua Tagovailoa was forged. The stakes may not be the national championship for Alabama (that might depend on the whims of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee) but winning or losing will make all the difference in whether Georgia gets a shot or not.
Auburn, the last opponent to step in front of the Crimson Tide locomotive in the regular season, played hard but simply couldn’t get off the tracks in time to escape. It’s an idiosyncrasy that’s part of Alabama season — you could watch most of Saturday’s game and say “Auburn is playing pretty well on defense” and then you look and see 52 points on the scoreboard.
What played out Saturday was similar to the other 11 games so far. Alabama hasn’t played a perfect game and probably won’t. “If you look for perfection,” to quote Natalie’s warning in Anna Karenina, “you’ll never be content.”
Yet that seems to be the standard Alabama is playing against. Drama, such as it is, doesn’t arise from the action on the field but from the Crimson Tide’s own pursuit of how good it can be. No reasonable person was worried about Alabama’s fate when it was tied with The Citadel at halftime. There might have been more fretting and sweating about a slim 17-14 lead over Auburn at halftime but only because the DNA of Crimson Tide fans carry a primordial warning siren that goes off when Tigers start blocking punts and catching tipped balls.
That voodoo has happened too often for those fans not to remember, whether in 1972 or 2013. But those plays only hurt when the opponent can keep it close enough for them to make a difference. Auburn couldn’t, just as no one has.
The real speculation this week should center on Georgia, and whether Alabama needs another heart-stopping finish to remain undefeated.
There will be a 50-year flood of chatter about playoff speculation — the Crimson Tide just needs to tune that out, as far as possible, and take care of business.
Then there will be Heisman talk. There’s no way to limit that, but one note from a Heisman voter (me) — we have received no new criteria stating that you have to have a “Heisman moment” if you are having five or six amazing moments per game. Nor have the criteria changed to “most outstanding player on a team with a craptastic defense that has to spend every week outscoring other teams with equally bad defenses.” That memo has not arrived.
Yes, Tua has weapons. General Patton had tanks. But it takes a genius — a virtuoso in a particular field — to make those weapons lethal.
Individual honors will be bestowed on this Alabama team in fair measure. Far more important are the three games that stand between Alabama and a repeat of the CFP Championship. If that repeat happens, with drama or without it, then the only debate remaining will be about Alabama’s place in history.
The regular season indicates the Crimson Tide might deserve all accolades. But only the games ahead can validate it.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.