The first Saturday in December will be very different this year for Alabama football players.
In each of the past three seasons, the Crimson Tide followed up a victory over Auburn with a shredding of the Eastern Division champion in the Southeastern Conference title game. That is obviously not the case now, because Auburn's 26-14 triumph Saturday afternoon inside Jordan-Hare Stadium punched an SEC title-game venture for the Tigers and left Alabama players with the awkwardness of idle time.
"It does feel weird," Alabama senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said Saturday night. "It's something we look forward to each and every year, and we don't get to go this year. It hurts, but we're going to learn from this and keep moving."
The Crimson Tide seniors were denied a 52nd career victory at Auburn, which would have set an NCAA record, and they were also denied the opportunity to match Florida's 1996 seniors in terms of celebrating four SEC championships. Saturday's setback ended Alabama's streak of 32 consecutive regular-season victories dating to a 43-37 loss to Ole Miss in September 2015, and it was the first regular- season loss for sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts.facebook
Hurts entered Saturday having played a prominent role in 23 straight regular-season triumphs.
"We're going to learn from this, but it's humbling," he said.
Alabama had the opportunity to play in Atlanta's $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium three times this season, having opened Labor Day weekend there with a 24-7 punishing of Florida State. The Tide could play a second time at that venue, either in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl or in the championship game of the four-team playoff, but that second scenario would require some chaos this weekend, namely Oklahoma losing to TCU in the Big 12 title.
What is certain is that Alabama played in the first SEC championship at Legion Field in 1992 and the first held in the Georgia Dome in 1994, but the Tide will not be part of the first one at Mercedes-Benz.
"I've been to the SEC championship game three times in my career," fifth-year senior center Bradley Bozeman said. "It is what it is. We've put ourselves in this predicament, and I hope we get a shot in the playoffs. If not, we'll move forward and do what we have to do to prepare for our next game.
"It's a waiting game, and there is nothing we can control now."
Alabama has been the only program to play in all three of the four-team playoffs, a format that replaced the Bowl Championship Series after the 2013 season. Auburn won the West in 2013 as well, stunning the Tide with the "Kick Six" at Jordan-Hare, and Alabama's next outing was a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Whether the Tide can respond should they get left out of the playoff won't be known for several weeks, but what is known is that this week will be very different in and around Tuscaloosa without any practices for an SEC title game.
"We won it both my freshman and my sophomore year," sophomore defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said, "so not going there is a little disappointing."
CBS announced Sunday that the Iron Bowl had a 7.8 rating, making it the most-watched college football regular-season game on any network since the 2013 Iron Bowl, which drew an 8.6. ... Although Auburn is now 19-17 in the Iron Bowl since Bo Jackson went over the top in the 1982 game for a 23-22 Tigers triumph, Saturday marked Auburn's largest margin of victory in the series since a 49-26 win in 1969. ... The Tide dropped from No. 1 to No. 5 in both major polls Sunday, trailing Clemson, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Auburn.
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