TUSCALOOSA — Normally, Alabama’s annual showdown with an FCS foe is often remembered for what happened elsewhere.
In 2021, then-No. 3 Ohio State lost to No. 12 Oregon. In 2019, then-No. 6 Oregon lost to an unranked Arizona State squad.
With Alabama’s postseason success under Nick Saban, it’s natural to obsess over other games. After all, any top 10 team is a potential playoff opponent.
For a moment, that rang true again as it felt like all eyes in Bryant-Denny Stadium turned away from the field to mobile devices as it became evident that both No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 TCU were losing late.
This was the exact kind of mid-2000s chaos that the Crimson Tide needed to have a hope of cracking into the playoff picture. Of course, the Wolverines and the Horned Frogs each kicked game-winning field goals in the final 9 seconds to survive unranked opponents.
Being all but officially eliminated from the College Football Playoff this early in the season is new ground for the Crimson Tide.
And that’s OK.
Instead of thinking about what could have happened elsewhere, instead remember Saturday as the day Alabama running back Jase McClellan put himself on the map with 156 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 17 carries as No. 8 Alabama beat Austin Peay 34-0.
Just don’t use anything resembling those words to Saban, and definitely don’t ask him what he’s learned about the running back who also had a career-high 19 carries for 84 yards against Ole Miss last week.
“I haven’t learned anything about him,” Saban said. “I always thought he was a really good player. I think y’all are just starting to figure it out.”
Saturday was technically McClellan’s fourth start this season, but it was his first time taking the field without injured starting running back Jahmyr Gibbs also being on the field. It was also McClellan’s first time crossing the 100-yard threshold in his career, which was remarkable considering he rushed for at least 95 yards in four previous games.
It was clear from the first drive when McClellan ripped off a 28-yard run on first down that the junior was in for a huge day. As if to punctuate that point, McClellan crashed into a defender with enough force that he converted on fourth-and-one to end the opening drive with a touchdown.
“It felt good just doing what the team asked me for and what the coaches asked me for,” McClellan said. “It felt good to just go over 100 yards.”
Hopefully, the fans watching from the stands and at home can think of Saturday’s game with the same gratitude.
Because while McClellan was the showstopper, he wasn’t the only player to deliver a career performance.
Receiver Jermaine Burton topped 100 receiving yards for the second time in his career and the first since he transferred to Alabama.
Burton finished the day with a season-high seven catches, 128 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Considering Alabama’s issues at receiver this season, that’s a stat line that can’t be ignored regardless of the opponent's identity.
Saturday was also another chance to appreciate star players who might leave early for the NFL.
Defensive back Brian Branch is one of several guys who will have a decision to make following the season.
If Saturday was Branch’s next-to-last game inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, then he did his best to make it a memorable one, recording a team-high 8 tackles, a tackle for loss and one of two interceptions.
Next week, the Crimson Tide (9-2, 5-2 Southeastern) will host an Auburn team that has rallied behind interim coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams. If the Tigers beat Western Kentucky later today, then the Tigers will also be playing for bowl eligibility next week.
Yes, this will be the first Iron Bowl since 2007 where both teams enter with multiple losses, but that won’t diminish a rivalry that has more often than not decided the SEC West and often had higher implications since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Bragging rights next week will mean a lot to both fanbases, and it will almost certainly always be that way. Just remember, not every fanbase can say that.