AUBURN, Ala. — Nick Saban posed for pictures, signed a few autographs and then headed for the bus with the regular season over and little to do but wait, hope and, of course, recruit.
“See you in New Orleans,” a couple of Alabama fans called out.
Yes, but for which game?
Saban and No. 2 ‘Bama polished off their body of work with a 42-14 romp Saturday over rival Auburn, and now they get to be spectators for a week. They’re almost certainly bound for New Orleans, either for the Sugar Bowl or the national championship game.
The other remaining contenders — namely No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Oklahoma State — have to make it through another big game before looking toward the postseason.
For the Tide (11-1, 7-1 SEC), it’s like Christmas Eve. A whole lot of waiting and hoping that they get just what they wanted.
“It’s going to be tough,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “But I won’t lie to you: It’s going to be good to get a week off. A lot of guys are banged up.”
But, he added: “I feel like we showed (Saturday) that we’re a national championship contender. I feel like we did everything in our power to do that.”
The most likely scenario would seem to be a rematch against LSU, which sweated out a 9-6 overtime win over Alabama on Nov. 5.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik has faced both Alabama and LSU, losing 45-10 in Baton Rouge.
“I haven’t seen everybody else but I’d be hard-pressed to think that there’s two teams out there better or a team out there better than those two,” Chizik said.
Saban just happens to agree, arguing that his players deserve the shot.
“They’ve worked hard and made a tremendous commitment,” he said. “We didn’t do the things in that (LSU) game that we needed to do to win against a very, very good team.”
Like his team, tailback Trent Richardson made a nice statement. The Heisman Trophy candidate ran for a career-high 203 yards and caught a touchdown pass.
He also might have had at least his second so-called “Heisman moment,” the kind of spectacular play that gets replayed frequently.
The first was a 76-yard run at Mississippi. He broke off a 57-yarder on his final carry midway through the fourth quarter against the Tigers when he raced down the right sideline, basically shoved safety Neiko Thorpe out of his way, broke away from several defenders and raced to the opposite sideline before getting tackled.
Saban said he feels Richardson’s the nation’s best player, but also put in a strong statement about his character.
“You love saying that about someone who is such a good person and someone who does so much to serve other people,” Saban said. “He is a great teammate. He is a leader. He cares about everyone around him.”
Richardson’s 1,583 yards ranks only behind the 1,658 former backfield mate Mark Ingram managed in 13 games during his 2009 Heisman season. It was his ninth 100-yard game, matching Ingram’s school single-season record.
Afterward, a fan yelled to him, “You made a Heisman run tonight.”
Richardson looked up and playfully said, “Oh, did I?”
The answer: A definitive maybe.
Alabama’s defense also made a huge statement Saturday. The Tigers managed just 44 yards on 29 plays — none going for more than 7 yards — in the first three quarters.
Auburn’s only points came on a fumble recovery and a kick return.
“I just think they were tough to block up front whether it was run blocking or pass blocking,” Chizik said. “They are just a really good defense. You don’t become the No. 1 defense in the country in just about every category by accident. ”
Chizik was left with different questions after the game a year after winning the national title, from potential changes to his coaching staff to switching quarterbacks. He hasn’t said what, if any, staff changes might be upcoming but offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is once again rumored to be a potential candidate elsewhere.
As for his young team, Chizik said: “We got a lot of experience for a lot of guys that will be invaluable moving forward. We’re just going to continue to grow.”
Freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier, the presumed quarterback of the future, managed to run for 28 yards in the game but neither he nor starter Clint Moseley had any success throwing the ball.
“Kiehl has a ways to go in terms of being ready to run this offense, but it certainly doesn’t mean that he won’t get ready any time soon,” Chizik said. “We’ll continue to work in that direction. He’s got a chance to be a really good quarterback here.”
He didn’t rule out a QB change for the postseason game, likely the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl or the Gator Bowl.
“We’ll look at everything, every position,” Chizik said.