Opinion: Tide has title train up to full speed

Alabama players hit the field before running over Auburn 49-0. (Copyright photo by Gary Cosby Jr. of The Decatur Daily)

This is my opinion column for today’s papers:

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — As Alabama’s players, coaches and staff jogged toward the locker room, Chance Warmack stopped for a just a moment.

He bent over and began digging into the Bryant-Denny Stadium turf, as if he was looking for something.

Maybe he was searching for Auburn.

Alabama drove the Tigers into the ground 49-0. The Tide has drilled Auburn by a larger margin of victory only once, beating the Tigers 55-0 in 1948.

As Warmack stood up, he clutched a little bit of the grass — a souvenir of a day that was every bit as memorable for Alabama as it was forgettable for Auburn.

The Crimson Tide beat Auburn so thoroughly and so completely, it really could’ve named the score of this one. That isn’t just some old cliche people whip out whenever a dominant team faces an undermanned opponent.

Western Carolina put up a better fight on that same field seven days earlier when it lost by the same score to Alabama.

Favored by 34 points, the Crimson Tide blew by that margin before halftime. The first-team offense scored touchdowns on all seven of its possessions. The Tide punter didn’t get on the field until the fourth quarter.

Toward the end, the Tide was driving for a touchdown that would’ve set the scoring margin record, but on fourth-and-goal at the Auburn 5, Alabama had backup quarterback Blake Sims intentionally take a knee and hand over the ball. A moment of mercy, perhaps?

But even with all of Auburn’s problems this year under Gene Chizik, who will lose his job, this one isn’t all on the Tigers.

Alabama played that well, maybe its best game of the year. Maybe its best since pounding Michigan in the opener.

This wasn’t the Crimson Tide that struggled with a physical LSU team and suffered a third-quarter letdown three weeks ago. This wasn’t the Crimson Tide that look tired, sloppy and out of sorts in losing to Texas A&M two weeks ago.

Alabama looked ready to dominate, and Auburn simply stood in the way.

Poor Auburn. The Crimson Tide really wasn’t trying to humiliate the Tigers specifically.

It was less about the Iron Bowl rivalry and more about Alabama finding itself again as it faces two huge games that could result in a third national championship in four years.

The Crimson Tide plays Georgia for the SEC championship Saturday in Atlanta, and if it wins, it will play for a national title.

That’s the legacy these guys care about more than beating Auburn, especially when it’s not an Auburn team anybody will brag about beating.

“It doesn’t matter to me who we were playing,” Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. “A victory is a victory to me.”

Alabama showed up revitalized and ready as it prepares for the games that matter most. When the Tide faces stakes like this under Nick Saban, it usually plays pretty well, and that’s what happened in this one.

After a hard season and facing serious questions about the direction of the program, Auburn just didn’t have any fight left to do anything about it.

Afterward, Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said maybe losing to Texas A&M helped his team and hurt it.

That makes sense in a way: It hurt Alabama’s record, but the shock of the loss pumped some life back into the Tide.

Saban hates when that happens. He figures you shouldn’t wait until something bad has happened before you wake up. Instead, he wants his team to be awake in the first place.

But that’s what happened, and Auburn stepped on the train tracks just as the Tide got up to full speed. And not even Warmack could find what was left.

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