TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s become almost cliché to say now. But at Alabama, they’ve turned cliché into championships.
The No. 1 Tide have gotten to where they are because they’ve stuck with the formula that has won them three national championships in four years and has them on track for yet another.
The “one game at a time,” “faceless opponent” and “just another week” mindset has become so ingrained in the program that it feels like a broken record every week. But it’s hard to argue against the success that “The Process” has produced.
To be sure, it all starts at the top with head coach Nick Saban, who changed the mindset of the entire program nearly seven years ago when he landed on a plane in Tuscaloosa. But it has trickled down so that just about everybody on the team has bought into the mentality.
“You guys like to make this game a lot bigger, and every other ‘game of the century,’ bigger than what it is,” senior quarterback AJ McCarron said Monday, fielding questions about Alabama’s gargantuan matchup with No. 4 Auburn that has an SEC and national title on the line for both teams. “It’s just another Saturday, it’s just another team. Let’s just go out and take care of our business, play the way we’re supposed to play. We’ll be fine.”
Some Auburn fans have taken this and other similar quotes as a sign of disrespect, using it as motivation. How can you take Auburn, which has engineered the biggest turnaround in college football, so lightly? In case you haven’t heard, this ain’t your momma’s Iron Bowl.
But as crazy as it sounds—McCarron touting this week as “just another Saturday” against “just another team”—he’s right to think that way.
Alabama has gotten where it’s gotten because it only focuses on itself (something else you seemingly hear time and time again). The Tide are not worried about what their opponent does. They are more talented than any team in the country. They are the standard right now, so comparisons to anyone else would be comparisons to something less.
Alabama doesn’t need anything special, any magic to take down Auburn and clear the biggest hurdle left before a trip to Pasadena. The Tide are the better team, plain and simple.
Consider these facts that the Associated Press’ Ralph Russo shared Wednesday. The following numbers are in reference to the Tide and Tigers’ common opponents—every other SEC West team, plus Tennessee:
Alabama averages 7.08 yards per play to Auburn’s 6.5.
Alabama has allowed 3.25 yards per rush to Auburn’s 4.43.
Alabama has won by an average margin of 38-13 to Auburn’s 35-26.
Nobody except maybe the most diehard Tiger fan would dispute the fact that Alabama is the better team. An Associated Press survey of 18 sportswriters in the state of Alabama (including yours truly) yielded 17 picks for the Tide.
That’s not to say the Tide are unbeatable, of course.
According to D.C. Reeves of TideSports.com, Alabama has been favored in every game it has played since the 2009 SEC Championship Game. Since that game, Alabama has lost five times, including just twice since November of 2010.
Another cliché is that the only team that can beat Alabama is itself, and that will be the case Saturday, too. The only loss for which you could argue that Alabama didn’t beat itself was the first 2011 matchup against LSU. But even in that game, the Tide missed four field goals.
So when you hear Alabama’s leaders spout what seems like cliché after cliché, they’re only following a formula that has taken the Tide to historic heights in the college football world.
And there’s no reason to stop deviating now.
There is no “key” or “secret” for Alabama to beat Auburn. When Alabama starts thinking in those terms, it loses sight of what has gotten it this far.
Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley, the undisputed leader of the defense, was asked Tuesday if younger players need any extra motivation for this game.
“I think for this game they get it,” Mosley said. “You still throw it out there because you have to. It’s one of the last games—and the biggest game. But I think the guys know what our process is and what we’re trying to do here. We’ve been all about business this week.
“Just like every other week.”