Saban keeps fans in seats as Bama rolls

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- This is what Alabama football has become. It's no longer a matter of how the top-ranked Crimson Tide will win, but rather who is there to see it happen. The score gets out of hand quickly, the bleachers empty around halftime and Alabama continues its merciless march toward an undefeated season and a return trip to the national championship.

The outcome is routine. The journey's a matter of semantics.

With apologies to Nick Saban, this is where his program is. He might not like seeing fans head home before the game is over, but at some point it's understandable to leave. The way Alabama has demolished opponents lately -- hapless Tennessee being the latest sacrifice -- there's little reason to stick around Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama is so clearly the No. 1 team in the country, it's gotten boring. Why not find a couch, turn on the TV and see who might be worthy of No. 2?

Scared Saban's death stare might find them on their way to the exits Saturday, not many fans dropped their red and white shakers to head home early. Only a small fraction of spectators left at halftime, satisfied with what they'd seen after sophomore safety Landon Collins intercepted a Justin Worley pass and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown to go ahead 35-0. The unranked Vols upset then-No. 11 South Carolina Oct. 19, but there would be no such letdown this weekend.

Alabama manhandled rival Tennessee on the way to a 45-10 win to improve to 8-0 on the season. AJ McCarron orchestrated the Alabama offense beautifully, completing 19 of 27 passes for 275 yards and no turnovers. Kevin Norwood led the team with six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. The defense, meanwhile, gave up only its second touchdown since Sept. 14 against Texas A&M. All told, Alabama has outscored its last six opponents 246-26.

An Alabama fan held up a sign in the stands: "Saban, we'll stay for 60 [minutes] if you stay FOREVER."

"Sounds like a good deal to me," Saban said in response, cracking a smile. "I'm too damn old to go somewhere else and start over."

Saban was in a good mood after the game, clearly pleased with the turnout against Tennessee. He opened his postgame comments by applauding the fans' efforts.

"I know I'm really happy, I know our players are really happy and I hope our fans are really happy," he said. "I certainly appreciate our fans today. They stayed for the game and did a great job of supporting our team. It was a great atmosphere for our players to play in."

Ed Stinson soaked in the final minutes of the game from the sidelines. As Alabama's starting defensive end, he was off the field well before the clock struck zeroes. The familiar tune of "Rocky Top" was drowned out as the crowd celebrated Alabama’s 50th all-time win over Tennessee.

Stinson, a senior, said he's been happy with the way his team has come into its own in recent weeks. Alabama's rough start to the season against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M seems like a thing of the past after winning so handily since then.

"I feel like we're clicking right now," Stinson said. "We're on the right track. Everything is going fluidly."

But Saban, forever the cynic, focused on what's next, looking ahead to the matter of getting better during the bye week.

"You get defined by what you do every week," he said. "It's going to be important for us to focus on the bye week to try to improve, to try to get more players to play winning football.

"We've got some good challenges and some stiff competition against some really good teams coming up here."

Saban stopped short of mentioning specific teams, but his target seemed obvious: 13th-ranked LSU's visit to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9. When Alabama and LSU have gone head-to-head under Saban, the outcome has most often been defined as classics. And once again, the two teams will be competing for the chance to represent the West in the SEC Championship Game.

And for the first time in a while, we'll see a game in Bryant-Denny Stadium that demands our attention from start to finish.