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Reaction to Arkansas Win Shows Nick Saban Has Hardest Job in College Football

Marc Torrence@marctorrenceAlabama Lead WriterOctober 13, 2014

Oct 11, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide players react to an interception by defensive back Landon Collins (26) during the second half of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The Crimson Tide won 14-13. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you felt a slight breeze after defensive back Landon Collins' interception late against Arkansas, chances are it was the collective sigh of relief coming from the state of Alabama.

Collins' interception, which all but sealed the Crimson Tide's victory over Arkansas, elicited a roar from the Alabama sideline, with players spilling onto the field in celebration. Alabama coach Nick Saban noted that "I hadn't seen that much emotion out of our team for a long time."

But it was a different response among the fanbase.

Message boards were on fire Saturday night and into Monday morning with all sorts of critiques of a one-point win against an Arkansas team that is still perceived as weak by SEC West standards.

That led Saban, largely unprompted, to launch briefly into a full-blown rant about unfair expectations that have been built up for Alabama.

"Everybody's got such a high expectation for what our team should be," Saban said, throwing his hands in the air. "I was just happy to see our players be happy about playing a game and winning. And it really, sort of, if you want to know the truth about it, pisses me off when I talk to people that have this expectation like they are disappointed that we only won the game 14-13 and in the way we played. Really, that's frustrating. You want to talk something that's frustrating, that's frustrating, to me, for our players, who play with a lot of heart in the game."

It was a breaking point of sorts for the Alabama coach who is no longer—and hasn't been for a long time—just coaching against the team on the other side of the ball. Three BCS championships in four years have swelled expectations to unrealistic levels and beyond.

It's not enough to just win. Wins are judged against other wins. And losses are reason for full-on meltdowns.

So it's easy to feel Saban's frustrations when a close road win in the SEC has brought with it an immense amount of criticism.

It's also why, right now, Nick Saban has the hardest job in college football.

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - OCTOBER 11:  Lane Kfffin talks with Blake Sims #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Crimson Tide defeated the Razorbacks 14
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Those expectations trickle down to the players. They feel the pressure to play a perfect game every time out from friends, classmates and fans on social media.

"Everyone wants us to win 60-0, and that's just not possible," fifth-year senior right tackle Austin Shepherd said. "Arkansas is really, really good. They're probably the team that's gotten the best out of this league. I mean, everyone should be happy with a win, and you can't win every game by 100 points, so you've just got to be happy with this one."

That mindset leads to playing scared instead of playing hard and fast like Saban wants them to play. Fullback Jalston Fowler noted that reaction after Alabama's close loss to Ole Miss.

"It's like we were scared to lose," Fowler said. "Everybody wasn't playing their A-Game, they were just 'Oh, if we escape with a win, we'll be all right.'"

In a way, a change in mindset helped Alabama finish off the Razorbacks.

Danny Johnston/Associated Press

Four fumbles on special teams put Alabama well behind the eight ball. The Crimson Tide were outgained in total yards, 335 to 227.

But when it came to crunch time, Alabama rallied. And that was encouraging to Saban.

"I was really pleased, Blake didn't do the quarterback sneak right. I really saw our players help him and support him," Saban said. "He made a mistake. That was good. We needed that on our team. That's been missing on our team."

The Collins interception was an emotional release for a team that, up to this point, hasn't really played with much.

"It was the most emotion we've shown all year," defensive end Jonathan Allen said. "I think we need more of that. A team that is emotionally attached to one another will play harder for one another. Now I feel like that's a big key of playing defense."

But the perception from the outside has been markedly different from that kind of reaction on the inside.

A 14-13 win over Arkansas, no matter how improved the Razorbacks are, doesn't look as good as the 52-0 beatings the Crimson Tide had put on them in the two seasons prior. So while the team sees the victory as a step in the right direction, it's otherwise looked at as a cause for concern.

Saban will face those same kinds of pressures against Texas A&M, Tennessee, and on and on through the rest of the season. Where once winning was the only goal, success has bred much higher expectations. Wins are the bare minimum.

It's the reality that Saban is facing, and it's rightfully frustrating. It's not going away anytime soon.

And it's not an enviable position to be in at all.

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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