TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- On the same Saturday that Ohio State and Michigan played perhaps the most heart-stopping of their 113 games, No. 1 Alabama closed out the only undefeated regular season among the Power 5 conferences with all the drama we've come to expect from the Crimson Tide this season. That is to say, none.
Alabama is powerful. Alabama is dominant. Alabama is much better than its archrival, a game but beat-up No. 13 Auburn, and the 30-12 final score failed to reflect the one-sided nature of the 81st Iron Bowl.
Alabama is not really big on keeping the interest of any audience not dressed in crimson or houndstooth. Anyone with any sense of this rivalry understands how much Tide fans enjoyed seeing Auburn struggle to finish with 182 total yards and seven first downs. But the rest of us are left to contemplate why we didn't cover the game in Columbus.
Just kidding. But there is a point to make here. Michigan and Ohio State played a game for the ages, but one in which excitement and emotion papered over the mistakes. Alabama just keeps churning out victories. The latest winning streak is 24 and counting. If the Tide make mistakes, they are temporary, like a rub-on tattoo. A bad punt and two Jalen Hurts interceptions in the first half led to three Auburn field goals, and Alabama's lead at the half was only 13-9.
While the scoreboard said the game was close, Auburn had two more field goals in the first half than it had first downs. The Tigers gained 31 yards on 20 offensive plays. Alabama didn't turn the ball over in the second half and scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, and that was that, as surely as hum follows ho.
Auburn, didn't have its injured starting quarterback, Sean White. Tigers tailback Kamryn Pettway, who missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury, gained 17 yards on 12 carries. The Auburn offense couldn't keep its defense off the field. Alabama, which averages 31 minutes, 9 seconds in time of possession, held the ball for 40:29 and gained 501 yards.
In the fourth quarter, the Auburn defense was so spent that it couldn't stop a simple handoff to Bo Scarbrough on third-and-9 at the Alabama 6. The Crimson Tide bled the final nine minutes off the clock on a 15-play drive to nowhere. They took a knee at the Auburn 37 to end the game.
No, the definition of excitement in Tuscaloosa is watching the clock tick as it adds to the minutes since the Alabama defense last allowed a touchdown. That s 267:54, or nearly four-and-a-half full games, since early in the third quarter of the Texas A&M game on Oct. 22.
In other words, the last time Alabama gave up a touchdown, the Chicago Cubs had gone 108 years without winning a World Series and Donald Trump had just lost the third presidential debate. A lot has happened since then. Just not in the Crimson Tide's end zone.
So how do we measure this Alabama team? We know that head coach Nick Saban has won four national championships in the past nine seasons in Tuscaloosa. But this is only his third Alabama team to finish the regular season undefeated, and the first since his 2009 team went 14-0.
We know that Alabama has won only one game by fewer than 10 points, and this mismatch was the third-closest final score of the Tide's 12 victories.
We know that what excites Saban might not do a lot for the rest of us.
"The consistency in performance," Saban said. "I think that's the most difficult thing for any team now, especially for college players, to be able to sustain that for the season. I'm really, really pleased and proud of our players, that we've been able to do that."
We are at the nexus of a problem inherent in the College Football Playoff, albeit one that didn't arise in the first two seasons. Alabama has had a good enough season that it doesn't have to win the SEC championship game against Florida to make the four-team field. When presented with this scenario after the game Saturday, Saban almost winced.
"I hate it when you say that," Saban said. "I hate it when you put that on TV, radio, internet, any type of communication. Look, I'm really proud of our team. But really, the legacy of a team still lies ahead."
Saban, the master of playing the next play, doesn't venture down the legacy road very often. He noted that the next goal is the SEC championship, "which we hold in very high esteem."
Sophomore tailback Damien Harris was more blunt.
"Anyone that says we can afford to lose a game," Harris said. "doesn't know what it's like to play sports."
Junior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, perhaps cognizant of the mistakes in the first half Saturday, perhaps merely matter-of-fact as his team heads into the bonus portion of the season, uttered one truth unsealed by the 12 games to date.
"Alabama," Hamilton said, "is our strongest competition."
The rest of the season gets tougher. Alabama will play No. 15 Florida, and then, barring something cataclysmic at the Georgia Dome, will play two of the top four teams in the nation, whomever they might be. Alabama has played no one as tough as Ohio State, no one as explosive as Clemson or Washington. But they haven't played anyone as tough or as explosive as Alabama, either. That team has yet to reveal itself.