The clock showed zeroes, and the usual halftime scurrying — the band in one direction, players in another, TV folks and other game officials trying to do their jobs while avoiding the fracas — had begun.
Alabama led Kent State, 41-0, and none of the listed 101,821 in attendance (although it was likely a couple people fewer than that) were surprised.
Among those hustling to the locker room was Kent State coach Paul Haynes, and right behind him was Jacob Pavilack, the sideline reporter on Kent State’s radio broadcast. Pavilack, doing what sideline reporters do, caught up to Haynes and asked for the coach’s thoughts on the first half.
“We’re playing the No. 1 team in the country,” Haynes told him.
That answered any potential follow-ups, too.
Halftime is a strange place to start telling a story about a football game, but this is a story about a very strange football game. Alabama, ranked exactly where Haynes had said Alabama was ranked, was hosting Kent State, which two weeks earlier had lost a home game to North Carolina A&T.
Alabama, winners of four of the last seven national championships, hosted a team that’s won four games since Thanksgiving Weekend of 2014 — and just two of those four were against FBS opponents.
Haynes had promised that his team had practiced and studied and gone through the paces for this game like it had for any other, that nothing changed about the routine or details and his players — he told all of them who’d brought a helmet that they’d get in the game — would compete from the first snap to the last.
How do you prepare for a game you have no chance to win? That’s a heck of a question. Part of Haynes’ answer was to embrace it.
“They don’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Haynes said last week, about 24 hours into his film study of Alabama’s first three games. “And if you’re trying to pick one out, you sit there and watch it again and again and realize it’s not a weakness. They’re the defending champs for a reason. They’re No. 1 in the country for a reason.
“We can analyze them all we want, man. They’re a machine.”